Fiji stun Wales to ensure best JWC finish
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England stand between New Zealand and a fourth successive IRB Junior World Championship title after both sides came through tough battles with France and Australia respectively at the Stadio Comunale di Monigo in Treviso on Wednesday.
Runners up in 2008 and 2009, England were the first to book their place in Sunday's final after digging deep to overcome France 33-18 in the first semi final which was as tight and tense as everyone had expected the battle between two traditional rivals to be.
Tries from wing Christian Wade, the outstanding George Ford, full back Ben Ransom and captain Alex Gray saw England to victory, but they were certainly made to work hard for a ninth consecutive victory under coach Rob Hunter this year.
France had their chances to reach a first ever final, wasting a glorious chance late on when Jean Pascal Barraque touched down only for his face to tell the frustration when the final pass to him was adjudged forward and the try ruled out.
New Zealand were not given an easy ride by Australia in the other semi final, despite a seemingly one-sided looking 37-7 scoreline, with their opponents a much tougher and more competitive outfit than that crushed 62-17 by the Baby Blacks in last year's final in Argentina.
Australia opened the scoring with Chris Kuridrani's try after starving their Trans-Tasman rivals of any possession early on, but this only seemed to kickstart the Baby Blacks and Francis Saili's try and two penalties from Gareth Ansombe sent them in at half time with a 13-7 advantage.
Anscombe, just as Ford had done in the first semi final, was the driving force in New Zealand's play, picking up a loose pass by his opposite number Ben Volavola to score a try in between touch downs from Charles Piutau and Brad Weber for a run of 37 unanswered points.
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Fiji, like France, are destined to record their best ever finish after they stunned Wales 34-20 in the fifth place semi final in Padova. Fiji, beaten by Wales twice in last year's tournament, had two tries from full back Metuisela Talebula and 19 points from the boot of Josateki Lalagavesi to thank for the victory.
They will now face South Africa, who were convincing 57-15 winners over Ireland with wing Tshotsho Mbovane claiming a hat-trick and Wandile Mjekevu a brace as the Baby Boks release their frustrations at missing out on the semi finals for the first time in JWC history with defeat to England.
There was no such luck for their fellow Pacific Islanders Tonga, who lost 30-11 to Scotland at this stage for the second year in a row and will again go into the final day knowing that victory over Italy is an absolute must if they are to avoid relegation to the IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy in 2012.
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FIFTH PLACE SEMI FINALS
Fiji are guaranteed their best ever placing in an IRB Junior World Championship after beating Wales 34-20 in their fifth place semi final at the Stadio Plebiscito in Padova, avenging two defeats by the same side in last year’s tournament.
Both sides scored three tries, but Josateki Lalagavesi’s more accurate kicking in front of the posts proved the difference, the wing slotting five of seven penalty attempts and two conversions through the posts.
This was in contrast to Wales fly half Matthew Morgan, a standout player for the Welsh in this tournament, who missed his first two penalties and converted only one of their three tries, scored by Dale Ford, Rhodri Jones and Steve Shingler.
Full back Metuisela Telebula, who has caught the eye for Fiji on the HSBC Sevens World Series this season, was an influential figure for the Pacific Islanders, scoring a try in each half and running hard at the Welsh defence until the final whistle.
Replacement Eliki Sicinilawa made the game safe for the Fijians with a 74th minute try and the Islanders can now look forward to a fifth place play-off against South Africa, who ran in nine tries in a convincing 57-15 defeat of Ireland.
South Africa Sevens representative Tshotsho Mbovane grabbed a hat-trick of tries and his fellow wing Wandile Mjekevu a double as the Baby Boks bounced back from the crushing blow of missing out on the semi finals for the first time in JWC history after losing the Pool C decider to England.
Fllanker Cornell du Preez, captain and number 8 Arno Botha and centres Jaco Taute and Francois Venter also crossed the try-line with Ireland powerless to stop the marauding South Africans, suffering a second loss in eight days after a 42-26 defeat in the pool stages.
Ireland did manage to cross the South African line twice in the second half through flanker Eoin McKeon and fly half Paddy Jackson, but they were little more than consolation scores and they now face Wales knowing victory will still ensure a best ever finish of seventh.
NINTH PLACE SEMI FINALS
Duncan Weir was Captain Fantastic for Scotland at the Stadio Mario Battaglini in Rovigo, scoring 20 points in their 30-11 victory of Tonga which confirms the Scots' place at next year's IRB Junior World Championship in South Africa.
The fly half directed the play with aplomb to help Scotland claim their first win of the tournament, accounting for all of his side's points in a first half that ended with a 13-3 advantage after Weir's converted try and two penalties.
Weir kicked another penalty just after the restart before Tonga second row Loni Toumohuni responded with a try to keep alive the Pacific Islanders' hopes of avoiding another loss to Scotland at this stage of the tournament, just as they had suffered in 2010.
However, further tries by full back Stuart Hogg and wing Kerr Grossman, both converted by Weir, made the game safe for Scotland and they will now face Argentina in the ninth place play-off after Los Pumitas survived a late Italian onslaught to win 12-8.
Argentina went in trailing 8-6 at half time after Italian scrum half Guglielmo Palazzani showed great running skills to pick his way through the defence to set up a try for wing Michele Visentin to the delight of the home crowd in Rovigo.
But Argentina claimed the victory thanks to the boot of captain and fly half Brian Ormson, who was successful with two of his four second-half penalty attempts to add to his two three-pointers in the first 40 minutes.
Italy threatened to grab a match-winning try right at the end when they got within five metres of the try line after an extended period of possession, but they spilled ball to put pay to their valiant effort to snatch a first victory of the tournament.
The JWC 2011 hosts must now regroup for a must-win 11th place play-off against Tonga at the Stadio Mario Battaglini in Rovigo on Sunday with the loser to be relegated to the IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy for next year with their place among the elite nations to be taken by Samoa.