England U20s display another way to win as they edge past South Africa and confirm semi-final spot

England celebrate victory over South Africa thanks to late James Isaacs try
©Photo by Carl Fourie/World Rugby

When James Isaacs rumbled over in the 87th minute to seal a 17-12 victory against South Africa in appalling weather conditions in Cape Town, it was just another indication of why the future is bright for England.

After clinching the Under-20 Six Nations title back in March - for the first time since 2021 - Mark Mapletoft's young troops are once again on the road to possible glory. 

Exactly a year ago, they fell at the semi-final stage of the World Under-20 Championship against France but now England are back at the same checkpoint of the competition, with Ireland to come on Sunday.

Why England fans should be positive about this current production line might be best encapsulated by the performance of the side in the pool stages.

In their opener against Argentina, England had to show their character and come from behind to claim a 40-21 win - with debutant Jack Bracken starring with a hat-trick - before Mapletoft made 12 changes for their second match against Fiji.

Different personnel, same outcome. 

A thumping 48-11 triumph was followed by Tuesday's gritty win over the Junior Springboks and it was England's fowards who showed their skillset again to guide them into another semi-final.

For the third game running, England fell behind with South Africa captain Zachary Porthen squeezing over after just seven minutes. The trademark Springboks power up front was on full display.

Then it was the turn of England's skipper - the highly-rated Finn Carnduff - who profited from an overthrown South African lineout to touch down on 27 minutes.

After the break, in almost an identical position to Isaacs' winner, Joe Bailey (who is connected to Exeter Chiefs and made 12 appearances in BUCS Super Rugby for the University of Exeter in 23/24), dotted down from another maul.

The host nation hit back as a lovely weighted grubber from centre Jurenzo Julius was latched on to by Likhona Finca who produced some superb footballing skills to finish.

There were still 30 minutes left when South Africa made it 12-12 - with weather and pitch conditions doing their best to disrupt the spectacle - but there was to be one late twist in the form of Isaacs' try.

So an England side bursting with emerging talent who have experienced the Premiership and honed their skills in BUCS Super Rugby and the National Leagues march into a semi-final against Ireland, who they drew 32-32 with in a compelling Six Nations clash earlier this year.

England have shown during this tournament how to conjure up victories and they will be brimming with confidence ahead of Sunday.