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Baby Blacks win U20 Rugby World Cup despite TMO controversy

Rico Simpson, one of the top five New Zealand U20s.
Photo: BackpagePix

New Zealand beat France at the U20 Rugby World Cup in thrilling and confusing circumstances, with the TMO having to confirm that Rico Simpson's last-minute penalty attempt was indeed a goal.

The Baby Blacks won the game in Stellenbosch, South Africa, 27:26 and were unbeaten at the top of their group after two games.

Simpson, one of New Zealand's starting five, calmly converted his penalty in the 80th minute when his team was two points behind. The shot went just wide of the right post and the uncertain assistant referees kept their flags down, although Simpson raised his arm, clearly thinking he had scored.

The referee agreed and told the TMO: “For me the kick was over. Can we confirm that please?”

The response confirmed that the shot was successful and, to the delight of the New Zealanders, the final whistle was blown.

It was the first victory by a New Zealand team over France in the U20 Championship since 2017.

France started stronger and led 11-0 at halftime. New Zealand managed to play ten minutes without free striker Andrew Smith after he was sent to the penalty box.

In the second half, the Baby Blacks increased their attacking efforts and took the lead for a second time when hooker Manumaua Letiu broke through with twelve minutes to go.

France looked to have the game won when Mathis Ferté scored a try with six minutes left and the Baby Blacks suffered further injuries when substitute prop Joshua Smith received a yellow card three minutes from time.

But then France was punished for indiscipline in the last minute and Simpson rushed to score the goal that was ultimately rewarded.

New Zealand has a good chance of reaching the semi-finals, as they lead Group A with 10 points, ahead of Wales with 7 points and France with 6 points. Wales beat Spain 21-10 today. New Zealand will play underdog Spain on Wednesday.

In Group C, Argentina surprisingly beat hosts South Africa 31-12 and are now level on points with them, five points behind leaders England, who beat Fiji 48-11.

In Group B, Italy beat Australia 17-12, while Ireland defeated Georgia 22-16. Ireland leads this group by four points over Australia, with Italy two points behind.

Goalscorers: New Zealand 27 (tries by Aki Tuivailala, Stanley Solomon, Dylan Pledger, tries by Manumaua Letiu, 2 counters by Rico Simpson, penalty), France 26 (Joe Quere Karaba, Xan Mousques, Mathis Ferte tries, counters by Hugo Reus, 3 penalties).