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New Zealand U20 finish strong over Japan but fall short of semi-finals

By Adam Julian
(Source/World Rugby)

The New Zealand Under 20s won’t contest the semi-finals of the World Rugby Under 20 championships despite a 62-19 victory in their last pool play fixture against Japan.

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France beat Wales 43-19 to top Pool A while England’s 22-22 draw with Australia in Pool B was enough to secure the last spot in the top four on superior points differential.

It’s the second successive occasion the most prolific winners of the tournament have failed to make the semi-finals.

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Despite winning one more game than England, New Zealand’s heavy loss to France meant they had to beat Japan by 67 points. It didn’t happen though had Macca Springer, Sam Hainsworth-Fa’aofo, and Isaac Hutchinson not been denied tries an improbable outcome could have occurred.

Japan didn’t deserve to lose by more than they did. After 25 minutes New Zealand was behind 7-12. Japan often attacked effectively with bodies in motion, sharp changes of angle, and swift passing.

Their first try came via a clean break by centre Shota Taira while the lead-up to two rolling maul tries was more impressive than the increasingly predictable and difficult-to-stop muscular pushover.

The rolling maul is an incessant feature of this tournament, but something not ingrained deeply in New Zealand, with the notable exception of the Crusaders who are selectively and cunningly ruthless with its implementation. Unless rules are changed, New Zealand must place more emphasis on both attacking with and defending mauls to compete at this level.

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Another step that needs to be taken is more thorough preparation. In the absence of regular international age group competition, New Zealand needs to be playing men’s sides (Canterbury development for example) to establish settled combinations and equip themselves better for the immense physical challenge of the Northern Hemisphere.

The emphasis on playing with pace, creativity, and superior handling skills where possible should still be encouraged because when New Zealand clicks, it’s still very good.

New Zealand scored ten tries against a committed and orgainsed Japan. Athletic loose forward trio Will Stodart, Sam Hainsworth-Fa’aofo, and Malachi Wrampling-Alec employed their greater size to good effect. Each scored tries and frequently punctured the Japanese defense, creating ample space for the blacks to thrive.

Crusaders wing Springer was named Mastercard man-of-the-match with a hat-trick. His first try scored in the 27th minute was an angled 50m sprint which catapulted New Zealand into the lead for the first time. His second was a routine finish from an overlap while a third traversed 30m.

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He also had a hand in the first of two tries to first-five Taha Kemara, who was again a source of fluidity on the attack for New Zealand. Springer could become a big name quickly.

A lull midway through the second half was eventually broken by impetus from the New Zealand bench. Code Vai and Cooper Flanders were damaging. Vai appeared a formidable specimen from his time in the World Series-winning All Blacks Sevens.

New Zealand U20: 62 (Macca Springer 3, Taha Kemara 2, Isaac Hutchinson, Sam Hainsworth-Fa’aofo, Malachi Wrampling-Alec, Cooper Flanders, Will Stodart tries, Harry Godfrey 3 con, Kemara 2 con, Isaac Hutchinson con)

Japan U20: 19 (Ryohei Imano, Takashi Omoto, Kouta Nagashima tries, Taishin Ohshima con, Kanjiro Naramoto con) HT: 38-12

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