England and Ireland set up a tantalising U20s title-decider with dominant wins over South Africa and Argentina respectively on Monday, writes Lewis Hughes reporting from the Manchester City Academy Stadium.
Argentina 7 - 37 Ireland
Ireland became the first side to book their place in the 2016 U20 Championship final with a resounding 37-7 victory over Argentina at the Manchester City Academy Stadium on Monday afternoon.
Inspired by outstanding performances from fly-half Johnny McPhillips and man-of-the-match Max Deegan, Ireland seized control of the match with a superb first-half that saw them canter out to a 21-7 lead over an out-of-sorts Argentina who appeared a shadow of the side that had gone unbeaten in the prior pool stages.
With the early exchanges entirely in the Irish’s favour, fullback Jacob Stockdale struck on seven minutes in opportunistic fashion to give Ireland a lead they would hold for the remainder of the match.
With the attacking side granted an advantage following an earlier rolling maul, McPhillips lofted a hopeful cross-field kick that was knocked backwards in the air by Argentina’s Juan Dominiguez only to fall fortuitously into the hands of a streaking Stockdale who dived over for the easiest of scores. McPhillips added the first of his 13 points to give the Irish an early 7-0 lead.
From there onwards, the Irish control only grew stronger.
Whilst the Pumas floundered with a number of passages spoilt by errant passes and unforced handling errors, Ireland, were composed and incisive when in possession; the game’s second try on 26 minutes indicative of the contrasting fortunes of both sides.
As Argentina sought to mount a response to Ireland’s earlier score via a pre-planned inside ball move from an attacking lineout, fly-half Miotti’s pass was intercepted by the opportune Deegan, who then showed an impressive turn of pace to outrun the Argentine backs from his own 22 and touch down at the other end of the pitch. McPhillips added his second conversion to make it 14-0.
Deegan’s try appeared to have crushed the small amount of momentum a previously lackadaisical Argentina had finally began to build and the Pumas’ deflation was compounded just two minutes later when Stockdale grabbed his second five-pointer of the afternoon.
From a seemingly non-threatening field position, Ireland moved the ball with precision out wide where a superb line break and subsequent off-load from centre Shane Daly opened up the space for Stockdale to run in behind the Argentine defence, hand-off the covering man and cut inside a second to tally Ireland’s third try of the game. McPhillips was on hand to add the extras again, 21-0.
There was some cause for celebration for Argentina shortly before the half, however. Having won successive penalties to move the ball downfield before earning a ‘free play’ due to Ireland’s collapsing of the rolling maul, fly-half Domingo Miotti threaded through a grubber kick that was pounced upon by captain Juan Cruz Mallia. Miotti added the extras to trim the deficit to 21-7 at the half.
Any hope of a shock Argentina comeback however was comprehensively suffocated by a clinical Irish performance in the second half.
With Adam McBurney and David Aspil heaping pressure on every Argentinian ruck and the dominance of the Irish scrum accentuating the Pumas’ disciplinary problems, McPhillips pushed over a penalty to extend the Irish lead to 17 points on 52 minutes before adding a second nine minutes later to take the score to 27-7 and effectively end the match as a contest.
With the Argentine scrum capitulating, McPhillips added his third penalty of the half on 66 minutes to well and truly put the game to bed, although there was still time for Argentina’s Santiago Pulella to be red carded for delivering a headbutt during an attacking rolling maul.
Argentina’s misery and Ireland’s jubilation was completed with the game’s final play; with the clock dead and the Pumas now playing only for pride out of their 22, a Martin Elias pass was picked off perfectly by Shane Daly who scampered under the posts to add the finishing touches to a statement 37-7 victory that suggests Ireland are in a prime position to win their first ever U20s Championship.
England 39-17 South Africa
Joining Ireland in the final will be England who booked a championship meeting with their Six Nations rivals with an emphatic 39-17 victory over South Africa in the day’s other semi-final.
The tournament hosts ran rampant in the first forty minutes against a disjointed Springboks side with a five-try showing that had effectively ended the game as a contest by half-time; Max Green, Huw Taylor, Sam Aspland-Robinson, Johnny Williams and Max Malins all crossing the whitewash to give England a healthy 31-3 lead at the interval.
Despite South Africa mounting something of a mini comeback early in the second half with two superb counter-attacking tries from Edwill Van Der Merwe and Curwin Bosch respectively, England were able to stymie the Springbok resurgence and further padded their victory with a Harry Mallinder penalty and a late Max Wright try.
South Africa will now play Argentina in the third place play-off on Saturday afternoon.
England’s dominance on Monday was established immediately; following a powerful run from centre Johnny Williams through the South African line– a recurring theme all night – the London Irish man found Max Green with a delightful off-load that allowed the scrum-half to go in under the posts unopposed. Mallinder added the extras for an early 7-0 lead.
Said lead was to be added to again almost instantly. With the South African defensive line at sixes and sevens, Williams capitalised again, this time with a smart kick through that was gathered by midfield partner Joe Marchant. With play now deep in the Springboks’ half, the ball was moved wide right and after a surging Jack Singleton run was stopped on the line, Huw Taylor burrowed over from in-close. Mallinder’s conversion hit the post to stem the tide somewhat before Curwin Bosch got the visitors on the board with a simple penalty to bring the scores to 12-3.
However if the Springboks had been under pressure before, their struggles were aggravated on fifteen minutes when captain Jeremy Ward was sin-binned for a needless tackle on Max Malins in the air. England, at their methodical best, took full advantage minutes later when Sam Aspland-Robinson was the beneficiary of the English’s greater numbers out wide to score the home side’s third try of the evening, although not without having to produce a superb diving finish to keep the ball in touch. Mallinder made amends for his earlier miss with a superb touchline conversion to make it 19-3.
With England’s scrum superiority helping them dictate possession and territory they struck again on 34 minutes, Johnny Williams notching a deserved try of his own having set up two before it. After a rolling maul had collapsed (legally) in the opposition 22, the ball was moved wide once again where Williams was able to muscle over. Mallinder slotted his third conversion to make it 26-3.
The English demolition did not end there however; a hopeful Mallinder up-and-under on halfway was caught with innate timing by Joe Marchant whose forward momentum took him clear before finding Max Malins on his shoulder to take England past the thirty point mark. Mallinder missed the resulting conversion to keep it 31-3 at the break.
A listless first-half performance was remedied somewhat by the efforts of the Springboks early in the second half who endeavoured to make a comeback with two excellent counter-attacking tries.
First, Edwill Van Der Merwe, like Marchant before him but this time for the wrong side, timed his catch of a Mallinder up-and-under to perfection, with the South African able to break free and sprint the length of the field to score under the posts. Moments later the ever-dangerous Curwin Bosch, following a perfectly executed rolling maul on midway that laid the platform for Springbok fly-half Manie Libbok to break the line, took Libbok’s off-load and sprinted clear of the English cover to likewise dot down beneath the sticks. Bosch’s respective conversions brought the game back to 31-17 and instilled a smattering of doubt amongst the English faithful.
However the English were to rally, in large part due to their dominance at the breakdown which was forcing turnovers at an impressive rate and they were able to adequately subdue the burgeoning South African resurgence for the remainder of the game. Although some simple handling errors and indecision had begun to creep into the English’s play with the Springboks desperately chasing the game, Harry Mallinder restored calm and a (17 point lead) with a penalty.
And with a small rendition of ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’ perforating through the Manchester evening, England closed out the game in emphatic fashion on 73 minutes; after a loose ball was recovered, England showed some excellent hands and (late-game stamina) to move the ball along the line before fullback Malins cut outside his man and found Max Wright for England’s sixth try of the afternoon.
Mallinder’s missed conversion was of little concern to the jubilant 39-17 victors who matched their title rivals with a similarly impressive semi-final win. Saturday’s final, with both England and Ireland in such striking form, now looms as a mouth-watering clash.
New Zealand 71 – 12 Wales
In the day’s other game, a resurgent New Zealand side put last week’s disappointment at failing to qualify for the tournament semi-finals for the first time ever behind them to to comprehensively defeat Wales 71-12.
A far-cry from last Wednesday’s nail-biting clash that saw New Zealand narrowly emerge victorious 18-17 due to a last minute Jordie Barrett penalty, the Baby Blacks’ victory was all but confirmed after a trailblazing opening eleven minutes which saw the Kiwis touch down four times to open up a 28-0 lead, the tries coming from Jonah Lowe, Hamish Dalzell, Caleb Makene and Shaun Stevenson.
New Zealand’s dominance would continue for the rest of the game with further scores from captain Leni Apisai, two more for Makene to complete his hat-trick, Quentin Strange, Stevenson’s second, and Patelesio Tomkinson’s length-of-the-field final minute interception effort.
Jordie Barrett was a perfect seven-for-seven on conversion attempts before handing kicking duties over to fullback Stevenson. Wales’ two consolation scores came from fullback Joe Gage and number eight Harrison Keddie.
New Zealand will now play Scotland in the final of the 5th place play-offs on Saturday.
A unanimous man-of-the-match decision, the Leinster academy backrower was at times unplayable against Argentina.
Combining both power and a lightning turn of pace to devastating effect throughout an 80-minute performance, Deegan was the conduit of Ireland’s forward momentum in a rampaging team victory which speaks volumes to his individual class.
His excellent counter-attacking effort that secured one of the tries of the tournament so far was just reward for a superb game.
Evident in England’s semi-final shelling of South Africa was the impact that the Premiership experience amassed as part of London Irish’s ultimately doomed campaign last season has had in helping Johnny Williams evolve as a player.
Williams used both his outstanding physicality at first receiver to punch holes in the Springbok line all game for England, but it was his astute decision-making under pressure that highlighted how the 19-year-old has already matured as a playmaker.
In every situation on Tuesday, Williams consistently opted for the best decision to help keep the England backline ticking along, be it a powerful run, a quick pass out of a tackle, or a smart grubber through the defensive gap. It is little wonder he finished the rout with a try and a try assist to his name.
Harry Mallinder continued his coming-of-age season with yet another composed and tactically perfect performance at fly-half against South Africa.
Pulling the strings behind a pack in the ascendancy, Mallinder facilitated a perpetually threatening backline, including the aforementioned Williams, with a string of perceptive creative choices that garnered space and time for his teammates, whilst also choosing the opportune time to take on the line himself in order to keep the Springbok defence honest.
Whilst his goal-kicking percentage suffered due to a number of difficult touchline conversion attempts, Mallinder’s imposing presence as team captain was apparent throughout; he has all the mental and physical attributes to represent England with full honours, maybe even as soon as next season.
Team of the Day
Loosehead Prop: Andrew Porter (Ireland)
Hooker: Leni Apisai (New Zealand)
Tighthead Prop: Billy Walker (England)
Lock: Isaia Walker-Leawere (New Zealand)
Lock: James Ryan (Ireland)
Blindside Flanker: George Nott (England)
Openside Flanker: Will Evans (England)
Number Eight: Max Deegan (Ireland)
Scrum-half: Max Green (England)
Fly-half: Harry Mallinder (England)
Winger: Edwill Van Der Merwe
Inside Centre: Johnny Williams (England)
Outside Centre: Joe Marchant
Winger: Jacob Stockdale (Ireland)
Fullback: Curwin Bosch (South Africa)