Aussie U20s fall agonisingly short in thriller

World Rugby U20s Championship
by Sam Phillips

Australian elation has turned to heartbreak with a single tackle, as an English penalty in the final minute sunk the Aussie U20s' hopes of a final four berth.

After working so hard to put their noses in front at 19-17, a Harry Johnson-Holmes spear tackle and subsequent penalty goal from English flyhalf Max Malins was the sealer with two minutes to play.

The Aussies won the ensuing restart and worked the ball deep into the England 22 with 31 phases of play but declined to have a routine shot at a drop goal, turning the ball over and falling agonisingly short to a stunning victory.

The Australians fell 20-19 and Simon Cron won't want to take positives from a game that his side should have won but this was quite simply an extraordinary performance.

The set piece and breakdown was dominated by the Australian outfit and they controlled the entire first half.Hamish Stewart played his best game for the Australian U20s this morning. Photo: World Rugby/Levan VerdzeuliBut the second half was even more impressive, as they put together goal line stand after goal line stand while England threw the kitchen sink at their defensive line.

The front row - Cody Walker, Jordan Uelese and Shambeckler Vui - were all superb.

Angus Scott-Young, Liam Wright and Reece Hewat were similarly enormous, while Hamish Stewart, Sione Tuipulotu and Izaia Perese created attacking opportunity after attacking opportunity.

The Australians came out of the barriers flying, an England scrum in the second minute turning into a shot at goal for Harrison Goddard, which he duly slotted from 38 metres out.

The Australian body language painted the picture of a team well and truly up for the contest and they dominated the physicality at the breakdown, set piece and tackle, as they turned pressure into points in their first foray into the English 22.The Australians were forced to defend their line for the majority of the second term. Photo: World Rugby/Hamish Stewart played his best game for the Australian U20s this morning. Photo: World Rugby/Levan VerdzeuliAfter Stewart repeatedly put his tight five over the gain line, some neat interplay between Walker and Harry Hockings put the latter through a hole, Tuipulotu rewarded for running a support line with an offload from Hockings for a try.

The Australians continued to control proceedings through big runs from Walker, Uelese, Vui and Hewat, providing a terrific platform from which Tuipulotu and Perese thrived.

England could not contain the explosive centre pairing every time they had a full head of steam, as they busted tackles at will and seemingly created half chances with every touch.

The Australian backrow was just as impressive.

Hewat pinched a pair of turnovers in the first 40 minutes, led the side defensively and proved very hard to stop with ball in hand.

Wright is an out-and-out fetcher at the breakdown, as he stuck his head in some dark places to pull three turnovers in the first term.

Scott-Young also carried with purpose and made several crucial tackles when England threatened.

The boot of Goddard kept the scoreboard ticking over and with 22 minutes gone, the Aussies led 16-3.Henry Walker was among England's best this morning. Photo: World Rugby/Levan VerdzeuliThe shellshocked English side needed some individual brilliance to record their first five pointer, Gabriel Ibitoye managing a NRL-style leap over Henry Hutchison to bring the score to 16-10 at the break.

England came out of the sheds looking like a team with far more intent and it took a Stewart try saver to keep the Australians in front early in the second term.

The Australians were under the pump for the first 10 minutes of the second term and after a big goal line stand, an English maul put Marcus Street over for their second try.

Malins added the extras and for the first time, England were in front at 17-16.

Australia had just 26 percent of the second half territory through 65 minutes, such was the dominance of England in the second term.

But the Australians refused to fold, putting together goal line stand after goal line stand to finally work their way back into the England half.

Harry Nucifora came on for Harrison Goddard and missed a critical penalty that he should have slotted with ease, leaving the Australians still trailing by one point with 10 to play.

He then rectified that miss with a clutch kick from 45 out, putting the Australians ahead 19-17 with five to play.

But it was again the boot of Nucifora which allowed England back into the game, a woeful kick going out on the full and giving England the ball on halfway.

That was followed by the Johnson-Holmes penalty, which Malins cooly slotted from 40 out to clinch victory for the English.

They will face South Africa in the semi-finals, while Australia will now play off for fifth place.


Australian U20s 19

Tries: Tuipulotu

Cons: Goddard

Pens: Goddard 3, Nucifora

England U20s 20

Tries: Ibitoye, Street

Cons: Malins 2

Pens: Brophy-Clews, Malins