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By ARU Media Unit
The Australian Under 20s have probably missed out on making the semi-finals of the IRB Junior World Championship despite defeating Italy 29-3 at ECOLight Stadium in Pukekohe this afternoon.
Australia look to have secured second spot in Pool A, with results from New Zealand’s final pool match against Scotland at 5:35pm AEST today to determine Australia’s final tournament position.
If New Zealand defeat Scotland with a bonus point win by scoring four or more tries, they will equal Australia on tournament points. However, New Zealand, which has a superior points differential compared to Australia, would take fourth spot, earning a semi-finals berth and relegating Australia to the fifth position playoff.
Australian Under 20s Head Coach Adrian Thompson was happy with the way the team adapted to the wet New Zealand conditions.
“It wasn’t ideal conditions out there today but our backs really adjusted and were still able to throw the ball around and use their pace out wide.”
“The Italians really tested us in the forwards, particularly in the scrum where there were some real contests in the slippery conditions.
“Although it looks like we haven’t made the semi-finals, which was our target for the tournament, we will not be stepping off the pressure as we look to finish the tournament in the strongest position possible.”
In a traditional wet New Zealand encounter, the Australians started well against Italy, dominating possession and territory.
Italy forced their way into the Australian half but some resolute defence from the Australians prevented the Italians making any ground, leading to a frustrated Giacomo De Santis attempting a drop goal to get some points for the Italians’ territorial gains, which went well wide.
The wet conditions dampened the Australian Under 20s’ usual fast-running style, as both teams attempted to adjust to the wet conditions. It took eight minutes for the Under 20s to cross the Italian line with Feleti Kaitu’u scoring off a powerful forwards pick and drive that allowed Australia to score its first try of the match.
Australia continued to dominate the match as Italy struggled to get possession off the dominant Australian pack. Ross Haylett-Petty enforced the forwards’ domination with Australia’s second try, again with Australia keeping the ball in hand at the base of the ruck.
Italy’s short forays into the Australian half could only yield points from a penalty as Italian flyhalf Giacomo De Santis registered the first points of the match for his side, off a penalty kick from the side of the field.
Luke Burton was the last of many hands to touch the ball down over the line as Australia scored its third try of the match moments before half time. Burton converted his own try to take Australia’s lead to 24-3 at the break.
The second half started with Australia continuing to control the match with possession and territory, as the pressure mounted on Italy.
Australian Under 20s captain Sean McMahon reminded everyone of his Super Rugby experience at the Melbourne Rebels and was a dominant force at the breakdown, frequently effecting turnovers and securing Australia’s ball.
For the majority of the second half, Australia was camped on Italy’s line for multiple phases, as the Italian defence challenged Australia in attack. However eventually the constant pressure paid dividends with Jack Payne scoring in the corner, ensuring a bonus point try for Australia as the score moved to 29-3.
David Horwitz’s solid territorial kicking throughout the second half ensured Australia could gain valued territory and keep the Italian fullback Matteo Gasparini occupied.
Australia’s strong defence meant that Italy was unable to score a try throughout the match and ensured Australia would have a nervous wait for the New Zealand-Scotland match to determine their final standing from the regular pool matches.