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Jono Gibbes' ‘do-or-die’ reaction to late, late New Zealand U20s win

By Liam Heagney
Manumaua Letiu celebrates his New Zealand try (Photo by Nic Bothma/World Rugby)

Jono Gibbes was left beaming in the Danie Craven Stadium tunnel after New Zealand grabbed a heart-stopping 27-26 pool win over defending champions France at the World Rugby U20 Championship.

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The Baby Blacks trailed 0-11 at the break on Thursday following an opening period where they were heavily penalised on the penalty count, culminating in a yellow card for Andrew Smith.

Their second-half fightback had them in front 19-18 on 63 minutes and then 24-21 six minutes later following tries from Dylan Pledger and Manumaua Letiu which sandwiched a penalty kick in reply from Hugo Reus.

However, they looked set to be beaten by a sucker punch Mathis Ferte try on 74 minutes that was followed by the 78th-minute yellow card for Joshua Smith which reversed the penalty award that had Rico Simpson ready with his kicking tee before TMO review intervened.

The out-half did get his shot to win, though, in the 81st-minute but he and his teammates were made to wait for TMO confirmation that the ball had indeed curled inside the right-hand upright and the score could be awarded.

Penalties

13
Penalties Conceded
15
1
Yellow Cards
2
0
Red Cards
0

Head coach Gibbes insisted he knew in real time the kick was good without the need for a review. “Yes,” he told RugbyPass when asked if he was certain from the beginning that Simpson’s kick had hit the target.

“It’s a funny angle, I’ll give them [the officials] the benefit of the doubt. But it was pretty clear cut from where we were; we were on the angle so we had a better vantage point.”

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Victory has left New Zealand in control at the top of Pool A with 10 points from their two wins and they will be expected to clinch the group with another five-point performance versus Spain next Tuesday back in Stellenbosch.

Success would secure a first semi-final since 2018 for the country that has the most U20 Championship titles (six) but none since 2017.

Their tenacity to fight back versus France on this occasion was in sharp contrast with a year ago in Paarl when the Clark Laidlaw class of 2023 lost 14-35 to the same opposition and went to finish in a record low seventh position.

“It was an important game. The format of the pools is a bit complicated to get out as the best runner-up looking at the other pools, so it was a bit of a do-or-die for us. We felt like that, so there was some really good reward for effort today,” reckoned Gibbes.

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“There was a couple of really key moments. Obviously the goal kick at the end is massive but you can see in the emotion of the players that it’s a squad effort. They are so happy for the investment they have put in and I have to take my hat off to the staff, my coaching group, they have just done an awesome job with these guys.

“It was a pretty tough watch, especially that last 10 minutes. It just felt like we were one movement away from just breaking them down completely but they showed their real championship quality. They hung right in there and it was a great clutch kick by Rico in the last minute.”

What left New Zealand stalled in the blocks and held scoreless during the opening half? “We just had absolutely no possession, it felt like, in that first half. The first 20 minutes of the game was pretty much played in our own 30-metre zone. We just couldn’t put them under any sort of pressure.

“They had a pretty cruisy ride for that first 40 minutes, so we just talked about working hard without the ball, our carry and clear skills and basics and try and hold on to the ball. It sort of swung.

“It was an 11-2 penalty count in the first half so felt that that was going to swing, absolutely, the human side of refereeing. We have away a silly penalty straight away but ultimately the penalty count swung back a little more evenly and we got field position.”

Despite being two wins from two, New Zealand, with a points difference of +8, are behind the top-ranked England who also have 10 points in Pool C but have a points difference of +56.

However, with New Zealand expected to run up a big victory margin against the Spanish minnows, they could yet be ranked number one heading into the semi-finals.

England’s final pool match is against South Africa, the hosts who need to win and have other results go their way if they are to maintain a run of qualifying for the semi-finals in every Championship since 2011.

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Comments

3 Comments
J
J Marc 19 days ago

France need to win with a bonus point but it could be the semi.

B
Blair 19 days ago

If the baby blacks do end up finishing top after putting on a show against the Spanish, does that mean France is their likely semi-final opponent?

Seems like a weird format if that is a possibility

D
David 19 days ago

Jonno Gibbes yet another Chiefs region coach heading up the ranks. And with overseas experience!
So far - off the top of my head:
D Rennie, W Gatland, V Cotter, W Smith, Joe Schmidt, J Gibbes, C McMillan, the Great Fozzie, and some bloke called Razor - from Tauranga?

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