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Magical Fiji strike to relegate tier one side from Under-20s World Cup for first time since 2012

By Alex Shaw
Fiji's players perform the cibi at the World Rugby Under-20 Championship in Argentina (Photo by Rodrigo Valle/Getty Images)

The headlines are focused on the final between Australia and France at the World Rugby Under-20 Championship on Saturday, but there was just as much on the line in the Scotland versus Fiji game, a contest that decided which of the two would be relegated to the World Rugby Trophy next season.

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Fiji were playing in their first World Rugby Under-20 Championship since they were relegated from the competition in 2014, while Scotland have been an ever-present in the tournament since its formation in 2008. Despite recording eight 9th/10th place finishes at the competition in their 11 previous campaigns, Scotland had never been involved in the relegation play-off until this season.

In that 11-year history, a tier one side has only been relegated twice before. Italy faced the drop in 2009 and 2012, although in 2009 the Italians were among four sides relegated as the competition reduced in size from 16 teams to 12. On both occasions that Italy were relegated, they bounced back immediately, winning the Under-20 Trophy the following year.

In what proved an entertaining affair in Rosario, Fiji saved their best performance for last at the Argentina-hosted tournament as they triumphed 59-34 and consigned Scotland to their first ever relegation.

Scotland kept pace with Fiji early on, as full-back Osea Waqa helped set up tries for Isaac Ratumaitavuki and Veresa Tuqovu, only for Jack Blain and Matt Davidson to strike back for the Six Nations side. Blain, in particular, was a consistent threat for Scotland early on, although Fiji’s strong finish to the half laid the foundation for Scotland’s downfall.

Waqa went over for a score of his own after his work as a creator earlier on. He ran a scything counter-attack through three would-be Scottish tacklers before wings Kaminieli Rasaku and Osea Natoga got in on the action to give Fiji a commanding 38-15 lead at half time.

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The second half saw a spirited Scottish comeback, as hooker Ewan Ashman collected a brace, something which remarkably took him to seven tries in the tournament, while Blain grabbed his second of the game also.

Thankfully for Fiji, Waqa also went over for his second try of the game, which established a lead on the scoreboard that Scotland couldn’t quite reel in. Anasa Qaranivalu and Ilaisa Droasese then both cruised over late on, adding plenty of gloss to Fiji’s impressive performance.

For Fiji, it’s a time to celebrate as promising talents like Waqa, Natoga, Tiri Shaw, Alivereti Loaloa and Chris Minimbi, who are all eligible for another year of age-grade rugby, will once again get to test themselves in the top-tier tournament next season.

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With an on-island academy being funded by World Rugby’s targeted investment, Fiji’s avoiding of relegation is a success story for the scheme and an indicator of what can be done for tier two and smaller nations with the right investment.

Conversely, there will be tough questions to answer in Scotland as the northern hemisphere side will have to spend at least one season in the Under-20 Trophy where they will be competing against the likes of Japan, Hong Kong, Namibia and Uruguay.

The only way Scotland’s place in the Championship could be saved would be if they were to host the Championship next season, as the host nation is always guaranteed a spot at the tournament.

WATCH: Part one of The Academy, the six-part RugbyPass documentary series on how Leicester Tigers develop their young players

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