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Four talking points after the second matchday of the U20 Rugby World Cup

The U20 Rugby World Cup lived up to its reputation once again on Thursday, with matches in Stellenbosch and Athlone showcasing rugby at its best. There were thrilling finals, plenty of excellent tries and even the novelty of checking whether the last kick of a match had gone inside the posts.

This was something new for experienced TMO Ben Whitehouse and the ruling that the ball from Rico Simpson's last-gasp shot had shredded the posts left New Zealand one of only three unbeaten teams heading into the final round of group matches next Tuesday. Here are the RugbyPass Topics of conversation from the second match day:

Georgian Appeal
The early rounds of the U20 Rugby World Cup are not an easy tournament to cover. With matches taking place simultaneously at two venues, kicking off at 2pm, 4.30pm and 7pm, not only is there little time to breathe and reflect before the next game starts, but there is always the risk of choosing the wrong venue.

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RugbyPass The decision to attend the games in Stellenbosch was a lucky one, as the Ireland-Georgia and France-New Zealand matches ended in dramatic fashion, while the South Africa-Argentina encounter was memorable for another reason: the South Americans started like Usain Bolt and never let up despite the heavy rain.

The miracle of RugbyPassTV has proved indispensable for keeping an eye on the action at the other venue. And while Wales and England's victories over Spain and Fiji, the tournament's two weakest teams, were entirely expected, Italy pulled off a well-deserved upset with a brilliant 17-12 victory over the Junior Wallabies.

It is not their first upset. They surprised South Africa in Paarl in last year's second round, but consistency has eluded them considering their 15-55 loss to Ireland last Saturday, which means they are out of the running to qualify for the semi-finals.

Inconsistency is also the mistake that frustratingly cost Georgia their defeat in Cape Town. They were leading Australia 8-6 until they received a red card after 20 minutes, and then they “lost” the remaining 33 minutes 3-29 to lose 11-35.

Their performance against Ireland at the Danie Craven Stadium was quite the opposite. After a slow start they were lucky to be only 12-0 down before their scrum picked up momentum and they took a 16-15 lead. It should have been 22-15 as Luka Tsirekidze missed two very playable penalties amid the tension at the end of the game.

Assistant coach Giorgi Nadareishvili later expressed his displeasure with some of the decisions. For example, Ireland had to go in for the game-winning try in the corner while an ambulance was on the field at the 22-yard line to treat an injured Georgian player.

The cruel reality, however, was that as proud as Georgia was of their performance, they were ultimately not good enough, so the question must be asked as to where they will get the non-championship games to make the necessary improvement in their final games.

“We need more games, opportunities against the Six Nations teams and other teams, that would be really, really helpful for Georgian rugby for the future,” Nadareishvili told RugbyPassThat would be ideal.

New Zealand Ticker
OK, New Zealand needed a last-minute penalty for a scrum violation to beat defending champions France 27-26, but the second-half performance they put in together in Stellenbosch was convincing evidence that Jono Gibbes has the Baby Blacks back on track like they used to.

Although there were no championships in 2020, 2021 and 2022 due to the pandemic, it still reads strange that New Zealand last competed in an age group semi-final in 2018 and last won the tournament the year before.

They had not been performing to the required standards of late, yet the manner of their four-try second-half comeback – having failed to score a point in the first half and trailing by 11 points at half-time – was exquisite and quite a contrast to their slide against the French in a second-round match in Paarl a year ago.

That defeat in the mud exposed the weakness of the attacking line, but the forwards now working under Gibbes are more resilient overall and the way they came back into contention against the French in the second half of this year was captivating.

They deserved their 24-21 lead in the 68th minute, but special praise must be given to the way they overcame adversity in the closing stages to secure the win. France's world-class try, completed by Mathis Ferte in the 74th minute, would have blown away many teams.

Equally frustrating was the yellow card given to Joshua Smith in the 78th minute, a foul spotted by TMO which led to the overturning of the original decision awarding New Zealand a penalty in front of the posts outside the 22-metre line.

Somehow they kept their composure and gave Rico Simpson another chance and he showed cojones by getting his shot in despite having previously failed two tries in quick succession from the same area of ​​the pitch when attempting to convert New Zealand's tries No. 3 and No. 4.

No wonder Simpson was pleased with himself afterwards and said RugbyPass in the dressing room corridor: “We got the penalty. I had missed two from there before, but I said to the captain: 'I'll just shoot, try it.' And yes, the wind blew the penalty back to the post. And yes, there were some doubts at the end, but after checking I'm pretty happy.”

Coach Gibbes was also satisfied. “It was an important game. The format of the groups is a bit complicated to come out as the best runner-up when you look at the other groups, so it was a matter of life or death for us. That's how we felt, so it was a really good reward for the effort.” And it was.

Let us cry for Argentina
Argentina deserves praise for their improvement since the first day of play and for the way their raucous fans brightened up a terrible winter's evening in Stellenbosch. The South Americans took an early 14-point lead last Saturday thanks to two tries against England, but ultimately lost heavily 21-40.

Against South Africa, they held on to an early lead of twelve points and two tries and immensely deserved the four-try bonus point, secured just eight minutes into the second half, and their 31-12 overall victory.

Their post-match celebrations were touching and the exuberant atmosphere as they walked through the tunnel to their dressing room was unforgettable.

“We have worked a lot this week, we have trained a lot on our mouth forward, we are very frontal. That is what we do. We have improved our mouth for this game,” enthused captain Efrain Elias to RugbyPasswhere he was able to impress both with his English and with the motivation of his team on the pitch.

This was the victory they had been waiting for. “Great emotions. A super, super game for us,” continued assistant coach Carlos Mohapp. “We worked hard all week, worked hard all year. Better than last year, better than at the (TRC) championship and finally we won against a great team.”

The unfortunate thing for Argentina is that despite this clear victory and the expected success with five match points next Tuesday against Fiji (ten in total), they are still unlikely to qualify for the semi-finals.

The head-to-head decision means they cannot top Group C as England, who play South Africa in their final game, already have 10 points, while their bottom-of-the-group points tally will be surpassed if there is a winner in Wales against France in Group A.

The Welsh have seven points and the French six ahead of their final game in a group that sees New Zealand top the table on 15 points and face underdogs Spain.

English efficiency … and a prediction for the World Final
Last year's semi-finalists, England are a far more dangerous side in this year's championship, having made 12 changes to their starting line-up after last Saturday's convincing comeback win over Argentina, sweeping Fiji off the pitch and securing a four-try bonus point in the 26th minute in Athlone.

Admittedly, they took their foot off the gas after that, which was not helped by the yellow card for Harvey Cuckson in the 53rd minute. Nevertheless, they won 48-11. The lead could have been five points higher if a yellow card for Kane James in the 81st minute had not been followed by a consolation goal for Fiji.

As seen in Embedded 2024, the weekly behind-the-scenes look RugbyPassTV Documentary series about Mark Mapletoft's team. They are a well-rehearsed team whose players, who will be taken over from 2023, have learned a lot.

After two games, the jockeying for the play-off rankings suggests that a final between England and New Zealand is on the cards – a fitting pairing considering that these teams were already champions of the Six Nations and the Rugby Championship in their respective age groups heading into the U20 Rugby World Cup.

However, in U20 rugby, predictions are often futile and whoever makes it to the semi-finals with them will not be afraid of the challenge that lies ahead.

In other words, July 14 will definitely be an exciting night of semi-final action. But first things first: Matchday 3 is next Tuesday, with France-Wales, Ireland-Australia and South Africa-England being the three standout games you don't want to miss.

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