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The Rico Simpson verdict on his TMO-reviewed game-winning kick

Rico Simpson (centre celebrates his match-winning kick (Photo by Nic Bothma/World Rugby)

It’s said you grow up quickly at the World Rugby U20 Championship and that was certainly the case on Thursday evening at Stellenbosch for New Zealand’s Rico Simpson. The Baby Blacks place-kicker had his frustrations during his team’s ding-dong match with France, the defending champions.

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They were left scoreless in the first half, turning around trailing by 11 points and in need of a quick acceleration. Simpson was initially on point, converting the 45th and 53rd minute tries scored by Aki Tuivailala and Stanley Solomon.

That was good in launching the comeback but there were then misses off the tee when attempting to add the extras to the tries scored on 63 and 68 minutes by Dylan Pledger and Manumaua Letiu.

It left New Zealand ahead 24-21 but vulnerable to the French still overtaking them, which they did with a wonderful Mathis Ferte score in the corner on 74 minutes.

Crucially, Hugo Reus missed the conversion, leaving Simpson and co just a point behind and knowing a kick could still win the day.

They thought they had a straightforward attempt lined up as Simpson was on the tee from in front of the posts outside the 22, only for foul play from Joshua Smith, spotted by the TMO, to overturn the initial on-field decision and instead see New Zealand reduced to 14 players with a yellow card.

It was 77:11 when the sin-binning happened but in a swings and roundabouts fixture, the TMO was soon the centre of attention again, called in to adjudicate whether Simpson’s 80:32 penalty effort had definitely curled inside the right-hand upright.

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It did, the final whistle sounding as soon as the thumbs up for the three-point kick being good was given after a lengthy review.

Cue pandemonium, New Zealand players jumping in delight that they had sneaked it 27-26, taking control of Pool A and inflicting a first defeat on France at the U20 Championship since 2019 when they lost a group game to Argentina but still won the title.

“We got the penalty. I missed two from there before but I said to captain, ‘I’ll just take the shot, have a go’ and yeah, the wind was curling it back towards the post and yeah, a bit of doubt at the end there but after the review, pretty happy,” explained Simpson to RugbyPass in the corridor outside a noisy New Zealand dressing room.

Did he know the kick was good while waiting during TMO review? “I was pretty niggly because I didn’t know if I had actually got it. All the boys were pretty confident so, and I watched the first review I was like yeah, I think it dropped over so pretty happy.  That’s the first one that has one to TMO, hopefully not the first of many.”

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Victory has New Zealand poised to clinch a first semi-final qualification since 2018; the take on the twice-hammered Spain in their final pool game next Tuesday back in Stellenbosch. That is a very different outlook from looking down and out against the French at half-time when held scoreless and down by 11.

“We had a man in the bin and kind of knew that if we could retain the ball we would build pressure and score points, so that was the message at half-time and when we went out there, just applied pressure constantly in the second half,” continued Simpson.

“We were underdogs coming into the game and we took that on out chin, realised if we play like that we could upset the champs and I think we played well enough to do it. Xavi (Taele), No12, Dylan Pledger, the half-back, (played well) but all the boys put in a tremendous effort.”

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Forward pass 7 days ago

A quality win by the U20ABs. France not advancing will be a shock.

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Tom 22 minutes 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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