The 2019 World Rugby U20 Championship has delivered its fair share of thrills and spills over the two opening game days and as teams prepare for the third and final matchday of the group stage, there are plenty of runners and riders to join Australia in the semi-finals, the only side so far to book their place.
Australia‘s comprehensive wins over Italy and Ireland have secured them a semi-final, with their 10 points in Pool B unsurpassable, thanks to their win over Ireland, which gives them the head-to-head advantage over the U20 Six Nations Grand Slam winners, should Ireland manage to match them on 10 points following their game with Italy on Wednesday. With Australia set to finish against England, with the perennial powerhouses at this level having performed poorly this season, there is a good chance that Jason Gilmore’s team could secure another win and a high seeding for the semi-finals.
Staying in Pool B, Ireland’s slim chances of qualifying revolve around them securing a bonus point win against Italy, which will take them to 10 points and open up the possibility of qualifying as the best runner up. With a current points difference of -12 and both South Africa and New Zealand sitting on 10 points in Pool C and boasting points differences of over +50, it would take a large swing for Ireland to have a shot, with a differential of over 60 having to be manufactured from an Ireland win over Italy and the game between South Africa and New Zealand. Furthermore, it would also require France to beat Argentina in Pool A, or for the hosts to beat France so comprehensively as to bring down the reigning World Rugby U20 Champions’ points difference from +35 to a figure that Ireland could catch.
England’s inability to pick up a bonus point in their narrow win over Italy cost them a shot at the semi-finals, whilst Italy sit winless after two games and will be hoping to spring an upset against Ireland in order to book a more favourable seeding in the 4th-8th or relegation brackets off the competition’s playoff stage.
Pool A is a little more straightforward than the complex mix of requirements in Pool B. France top the group on 10 points and a win or draw against Argentina will be enough to see them through as pool winners. Argentina have six points and a win – whilst denying France a losing or try bonus point – would be enough to see them through as pool winners, or a bonus point win over France would be enough for Argentina to top the group, should France manage to pick up a bonus point in that game, thanks to Argentina then having the head-to-head advantage over France in both scenarios. In the unlikely event that France were to lose to Argentina, but still pick up two bonus points, they would finish top of the pool.
Topping the pool is not the only way through to the semi-finals for Argentina, however, whose six points give them a shot at the best runner up spot, too. A win would take them to 10 points, potentially putting them into a points difference battle with Ireland, should they win against Italy, and the loser of the New Zealand vs South Africa game. A bonus point win would take them beyond any total Ireland can amass, as well as beyond the loser in the New Zealand vs South Africa game, presuming the loser were unable to pick up any bonus points. Should the loser pick up a bonus point, it would go down to battle of points difference and Argentina’s current tally of +22 gives them a puncher’s chance.
The other match in Pool A sees Wales take on Fiji, with Wales’ total of four points, like England, ruling them out of a chance at the semi-finals. Fiji have no points to show for their first two games and will be keen to try and pick some up in order to avoid going into the relegation bracket as the 12th overall seed.
It’s winner takes all in Pool C, with both New Zealand and South Africa tied on 10 points and set to play each other for top spot. Even their points differences are almost inseparable, with South Africa on +52 and New Zealand on +51. In the case of a draw, South Africa would go through as group winners thanks to that slight points difference advantage and New Zealand would qualify as the best runner up, with no other team in the competition capable of making the 12-point mark that they would be on. Should one of the two sides in a draw manage to grab a try bonus point and the other were not to, then they would qualify as pool winners.
Should the more likely outcome of a winner and loser occur, then the previously mentioned permutations of points difference and losing bonus points could be important. If the loser picks up one losing bonus point, Ireland, no matter their points difference, can no longer catch them, whilst if they pick up two, Argentina can similarly no longer catch them, no matter their points difference.
The other game of Scotland vs Georgia will have no bearing on the semi-finals, although with Georgia sharing Fiji’s fate of currently being on zero points, it does have intriguing connotations for the upcoming relegation bracket of the playoffs.
These final group games will be played on Wednesday, before the playoff stage begins on Monday.
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