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Four World Rugby U20 Championship match day two talking points

New Zealand and Wales emerge from the tunnel in Athlone last Saturday (Photo by Thinus Maritz/World Rugby)

Buckle up for more fireworks at the World Rugby U20 Championship. Thursday’s match day two programme is poised to be electric with Ireland-Georgia, France-New Zealand and South Africa-Argentina scheduled to play in Stellenbosch, while across in Athlone the matches are Wales-Spain, England-Fiji and Australia-Italy.


It’s the sort of programme that should have rugby fans having two gadgets on the go at the same time so that none of the action is missed as it happens. RugbyPass TV will be streaming all games live and for free in countries that don’t have an exclusive local broadcaster deal – click here to sign up/log in.

RugbyPass published its day two match-by-match guide on Wednesday, listing all the teams, the number of changes, and predicting the outcome of the matches – click here to check out the selected teams.

Before the action gets started at 2pm local time in South Africa, with the other kick-offs timed for 4:30pm and 7pm, here are the RugbyPass talking points:

The six/two bench
Not long after the Springboks confirmed in Pretoria on Tuesday they had opted for a six-two forwards/backs split on their bench was Junior Boks coach Bafana Nhleko mirroring the tactic by also going six/two with his bench for the U20s clash with Argentina.

World Rugby U20 Championship
South Africa U20
12 - 31
Argentina U20
All Stats and Data

The Junior Boks went with a five/three divide for their opening-round win over Fiji but the physicality of the Argies left Nhleko convinced his team would be best served by having an additional reserve forward for round two.

A narrow two-point win on the Gold Coast in May in the maiden U20s Rugby Championship fed into the South African coach’s thinking, as did how well Argentina initially coped with England last Saturday in Athlone before falling away to lose 20-41.


South Africa aren’t the only round two team going with the six/two bench as Italy have also selected that way. However, the 10 other teams, including the Argies who are taking on the Junior Boks, have stuck with the traditional five-three divide and it will be interesting to see how Nkleko manages his reverse backs.

Mention of South African backs, Michail Damon is marked absent after he was stretchered off in the 71st minute of the win over Fiji.

He got his head in the wrong place for the tackle and while that type of collision is never nice to see, replacement Fijian prop Luke Nasau deserved kudos for the way he stopped playing and went on the ground to assist Damon before medical help arrived. Very well played by the Pacific Islander.   

The standout clash
All the match day two games have their intrigue but the meeting of France, the reigning World Rugby U20 Championship champions, and New Zealand, recent winners of the first U20 Rugby Championship, is the standout clash of the day.


The French endured a forgettable Six Nations, losing all three of their home matches to Ireland, Italy and England, and while they got their Championship off to a comfortable win over minnows Spain last Saturday in Cape Town, facing the Baby Blacks in Stellenbosch is the fixture that will determine whether their attempt to win a fourth successive age-grade World Cup is realistic or not.

They were defeated 31-45 by England last March and their round two Championship starting XV is very different with just seven repeat starters from that Six Nations loss in Pau 16 weeks ago.

Two of the front row, loosehead Lino Julien and hooker Barnabe Massa, back-rowers Joe Quere Kara and Mathis Castro-Ferreira, half-backs Leo Carbonneau and Hugo Reus, and left wing Mathis Ferte are the retained names.

The performance of Castro-Ferreira will be of great curiosity. It was Sunday when he got to Cape Town having delayed his arrival due to Toulouse being involved in last Friday’s Top 14 final, and his head-to-head at No8 with Mosese Bason looks very tasty.

While they are reigning TRC champs, it’s also a massive fixture for the credibility of New Zealand age-grade rugby as it was round two in Paarl last year where they were blown away 14-35 by the French, going on to finish a derisory seventh in the Championship.

From rotation to enforced changes
The five-day turnaround between games is a massive factor at the tournament and some teams have opted to get their rotation done early in the hope of having key players in tip-top shape for later on. England have changed 12 of their starting XV for round two, Wales 10, Italy nine and Ireland seven.

The Junior Wallabies, though, with six changes can’t be said to be rotating their line-up. Incredibly they lost four players through injury following last Saturday’s hard-fought win over Georgia, a massive casualty toll.

There was no pattern to the ailments, respective leg, knee and rib issues sustained in the match respectively ruling out Jack Barrett, Tevita Alatini and Ben Di Staso, and Hwi Sharples also failed to tog out after being named on the bench due to a hamstring problem.

That left coach Nathan Grey scrambling to fly in a quartet of Waratahs from Sydney and two of them, prop Nathaniel Tiitii and scrum-half Billy Dickens, have been named on the bench versus the Italians, while their team is also short the suspended Harvey Cordukes following his red card. 

While we hope the jet lag doesn’t hamper the benching duo, the change-up in the Aussie squad is a sharp reminder of how things can alter very quickly at a tournament where strength in depth is huge.


The double-jobbing refs
Praise for the match officials is always something hard won in rugby, which is a pity given the long hours that go in from them trying to make correct decisions as many times as possible.

Luke Pearce, for instance, has been busy in the referee’s department at the U20s tournament in Cape Town making sure he has his homework done before flying north to take charge of Saturday’s much-hyped South Africa versus Ireland Test match in Pretoria.   

One aspect of the U20s that will have escaped everyone but the eagle-eyed rugby anorak is that the assistant referees are double jobbing on match days. For instance, Reuben Keane acted as assistant referee last Saturday for the 4:30pm Ireland-Italy kick-off and remained on the touchline for the 7pm South Africa-Fiji meeting.

The same happened in Athlone with Sam Grove-White assisting in two successive matches, the England-Argentina opener and then the following Australia-Georgia clash.     

Match day two will see some more touchline doubling up with Federico Vedovelli pencilled in to assist at games two and three and Morne Ferreira doing games one and two in Stellenbosch, while Neheun Jauri Rivero is assisting for games two and three in Athlone.

The 160-minute duty doesn’t end there as several people working in TMO/Bunker are also covering two matches, while the three performance reviewers also have two games each. That’s a busy workload, to say the least.  

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Tom 1 hours ago
All Blacks snatch another tight victory from England at Eden Park

First up to any of the ABs fans who accused us of “bluster” pre-series for saying it would be a competitive - I'm glad it turned out to be an excellent series to which the ABs were deserving winners and I hope next time a side tours you'll be a little more humble. I loved the heart shown by the English boys and how they managed to contain the AB attack for large parts of the series. Was very disappointed by the lack of cohesion and ambition ball in hand, we looked after the ball poorly and hardly went 2 phases without kicking it away. We're not giving ourselves enough opportunity to put phases together and build pressure. The ambition shown in the 6N against Ireland and France seems to have gone and our players look very hesitant with ball in hand, we look much better when Marcus is taking the ball flat and boys are running hard at the line. So frustrating when we're starting to build pressure in the 22 we go back to the grubber kick then find ourselves back on the half way line 10 seconds later. We've shown great success with our box kicking game but we need to leave the flipping grubber kick in the locker room. Like the Marcus Smith hail Mary miss pass that went straight to Mark Telea, we seem to have no patience. Sometimes we just need to recycle the ball and go again. Loving seeing Maro back to his best and Fin Baxter really impressed, Alex Mitchell looks to be one of the most complete 9s in world rugby, great around the base and impeccable kicking. Congrats to the ABs, far more dangerous and skillful than England. We contained you for large swathes but to shut down that amount of pace and skill for 80 mins is nigh on impossible. Managed to find a way to win and instinctively grabbed the rare opportunities which came your way. Finding ways to win in two tight test matches will I'm sure be a great experience for your younger players. Beauden needs to be in the starting 15, what a worldie.

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