Australia’s World Rugby U20s semi-final hopes have been dashed after a 27-18 loss to New Zealand on Friday morning.
After trailing by 11 points early, the Aussies fought its way back with patience and a dominant scrum to narrow the gap to two points just before half-time, and kept in touch for most of the game.
The Junior Wallabies showed their grit, but a 62nd-minute try ultimately proved the difference, putting the match and the final four out of Australia’s reach.
The Kiwis had a try disallowed by the TMO, with captain Tom Christie stealing the ball by foot from an Australian recycle and going over, but denied after losing the ball over the line.
There weren’t any such questions over their second attempt at the line, with flyhalf Harry Plummer wrong-footing Australia’s defence to score.
Australia had a chance to build pressure after that New Zealand score and ultimately drew a penalty for their efforts, with Isaac Lucas keeping the margin just four points.
A Matt McTaggart intercept put Australia in a dangerous spot, but the winger couldn’t beat the Kiwi defenders, before the New Zealand no. 8 Devan Flanders returned the favour and finished the job, in the 12th minute.
Only Stewart’s effort in defence was able to prevent another Kiwi try, holding them up over the line but they gave away a penalty in the process, with Plummer slotting the three-pointer.
Australia had mountains of possession as the first half ticked on and it looked as if it was going to pay off, with Semisi Tupou spotting a gap, but the outside centre lost the ball in a tackle.
Their star additions created something special in the 29th minute, with a Stewart grubber sitting up for Petaia, who threw an inside ball to flanker Fraser McReight to score.
Australia’s confidence began to grow after that, with skipper Tate McDermott backing a dominant scrum in attack, ultimately yielding a penalty try and a New Zealand yellow card for Tevita Mafileo.
The Aussies couldn’t produce any points early in the second half, despite the one-man advantage, but neither side was really taking control.
Stewart tried to pepper New Zealand with kicks, as the Aussies looked for territory, before a McDermott box kick did the job.
A 55th-minute new Zealand penalty kept the margin to a single score, before Isaac Lucas replied immediately for the Aussies.
Australia’s hard work was unravelled by an ankle-breaking run from New Zealand fullback Vilimoni Koroi, who put Jamie Spowart over and stretched the margin beyond one score.
Christie was sent to the bin with two minutes to go, giving Australia a chance to snatch a miracle, but they simply ran out of time.
Though the New Zealand loss was the ultimate nail in Australia’s U20s coffin, they will be left to rue an opening loss to Wales, who only beat Japan by a solitary point on Friday morning (AEST).
Australia finished eighth in the overall standings, and will go into the fifth-place semi-final against Italy next Tuesday.
New Zealand will take on France and England will play South Africa in the main semi-finals.
New Zealand 27
Tries: Plummer, Flanders, Spowart
Cons: Plummer 2
Pens: Plummer 2
Yellow Cards: Mafileo (39’)
Junior Wallabies 18
Tries: McReight, penalty
Pens: Lucas 2