Japan reclaimed their place amongst the elite of international age-grade rugby at the first attempt after lifting the World Rugby U20 Trophy 2017 for the second time in their history.
Not even the torrential rain could dampen Japan’s enthusiasm as they celebrated a 14-3 victory over Portugal in a final cut short in the interests of player safety.
With large pools of surface water on the Estadio Charrua pitch and thunderstorms rolling in, the decision was taken to abandon play with 15 minutes to go with Japan, 11 points up at the time referee Francisco Gonzalez led the players from the field, declared the winners.
“Due to the climatic conditions we have had in Montevideo today and the lightening that has become very clear and close to the ground, we have had to abandon the match and Japan have been declared the winners as a result,” explained tournament director Simon Kibble.
Huge credit must go to not only Japan and Portugal but to all eight teams for battling on so gamely given the terrible conditions in the Uruguayan capital.
Earlier, Canada had signed off with their first win of the tournament to take seventh place ahead of Hong Kong, Chile continued their upward curve with a creditable 15-13 win over Fiji to finish fifth and hosts Uruguay managed a repeat of the bronze medal they won in Lisbon two years ago with a relatively comfortable victory over Namibia in the penultimate game of the day.
Japan 14-3 Portugal (result stands after play was abandoned after 65 minutes)
Japan slipped and slid their way back into the elite of international age-grade rugby after a final that will sadly be remembered as much for the awful conditions as the rugby on show.
With Montevideo experiencing a deluge of rain the like of which many seasoned observers at the national stadium had not seen before, running rugby was a non-starter from the word go although both teams manfully stuck to their task.
Understandably the tactics were clear from the start – kick for territory and hope for a mistake. Opposing fly-halves Shota Fukui and Jorge Abecasis engaged in a game of aerial ping-pong for much of the 65 minutes played and, initially, it looked though Portugal’s tactician was getting the better of the duel.
Building phases was nigh on impossible though, and somewhat against the run of play, it was Japan who struck the first blow.
The first try involved two of the standout performers of the U20 Trophy as Abercasis, who has kicked his goals and directed play superbly throughout the last fortnight, took too long to clear his lines and was charged down 15 metres in front of his own posts by the equally impressive Faulua Makisi. Tongan-born Makisi dived on the loose ball and aquaplaned his way over the line for his sixth try of the tournament. Tomoki Kishioka's conversion made it 7-0 to Japan.
Asides from using their strong mauling game to good effect, Portugal struggled to fire any shots in retaliation and the score remained that way up until the break.
That lead was doubled with the second half just seven minutes old when Japan turned the screw on Portugal at scrum time and were awarded a penalty try.
Portugal upped the ante in an attempt to get a foothold in the game but all they had to show for their efforts was a 56th-minute penalty from the boot of Abecasis.
The Junior Os Lobos continued to press in search of the score that would put them right back in it but with 65 minutes gone the officials were left with no option but to take the players from the field in the interests of safety.
While it was not the end to the competition that anyone would have wanted, there was no disguising the delight of Japan’s players when they went up to receive the trophy under the cover of the main stand knowing that they will be back in the World Rugby U20 Championship next year.
Namibia 12-34 Uruguay
Number eight Santiago Civetta bagged a brace of tries to help Uruguay to victory in the bronze medal match.
Los Teritos were in front as early as the third minute when Civetta opened his account for the match and from that point onwards Namibia were always playing catch-up rugby.
The African U19 champions did come within three points of the host nation at the start of the second period but Los Teritos finished strongly to score five tries and win comfortably.
Civetta’s first was followed by a try for Guillermo Pujadas which full-back Alejo Piazza turned into seven points with the conversion.
Trailing 12-0 Namibia needed a response and they found it on 29 minutes when Cliven Loubser converted his own try. However, Uruguay had the final say of the first half when Juan Martin Cattivelli kicked the first drop goal of the tournament on 33 minutes to make the half-time score 15-8.
Adriaan Ludick’s try four minutes after the restart gave Namibia real hope of bettering last year’s fourth-place finish in Zimbabwe, but Civetta’s second and Piazza’s conversion put some daylight between the teams.
Martin Fitipaldo scored Uruguay’s fourth try before Los Teritos survived the 10 minutes that James McCubbin was off the field for a yellow card without conceding any points,
Namibia also lost a man to the sin-bin in the dying throes of the match and, this time, the extra man told as Matias Aboy went over in stoppage time. Piazza kicked his third conversion from five attempts, the six points taking him to the top of the tournament’s points scoring charts.
Chile 15-13 Fiji
Chile tackled their hearts out and hung in for a 15-13 victory to claim fifth place at the expense of a Fijian side that struggled to adapt to the wet conditions at the Estadio Charrúa
Fiji’s Jamie Kotz put his crucial miss against Portugal on Wednesday to one side to slot the first points of the game from the kicking tee with eight minutes gone.
But Chile weren’t behind for long as they came back at Fiji through the forwards and won a penalty try on 15 minutes. Fiji tight-head Luke Tagi was despatched to the sin-bin for repeatedly collapsing the scrum and, two minutes later, they made the Pacific Islanders’ pay with a second try, this time scored by Rodrigo Manzano. Tomas Sales missed the chance to put his side 14-3 when his conversion attempt flew wide of the posts.
14-man Fiji responded well, Viliame Suwawa scoring twice between the 24th and 29th minute, to put last year’s bronze medallists 13-12 up. The advantage would have been bigger had Kotz not missed both conversions and a 35th-minute penalty.
With captain and blindside flanker Alfonso Escobar putting in a superb shift in both attack and defence Chile refused to buckle and they reclaimed the lead when Sales knocked over a penalty on the hour mark.
That would prove to be the only scoring act of the half with Fiji’s attempts to get back into the game suffering a blow when they lost Fabiano Navabale to the sin-bin on 67 minutes.
Canada 38-0 Hong Kong
Canada saved their best performance until last as they shut-out Hong Kong to win 38-0 and claim seventh place.
With injury depriving them of full-back Matt Worley, one of their most experienced and influential players, Hong Kong were no match for a Canadian side that at last showed some of its potential.
For the first time in the tournament Canada posted the first try. Cole Davis took a ball on the right wing and, using his pace, he cut inside the Hong Kong defence and touched down just six minutes into the contest. With Will Kelly converting, Canada were seven points to the good.
Canada doubled their lead before the first quarter was over when prop Cole Keith powered his way across the line and touched down in the 18th minute for his first try of the tournament and Kelly converted.
With Canada enjoying all the momentum, Jake Thiel got on the scoreboard with his team’s third try of the opening half, fending off a Hong Kong defender and touching down in the 27th minute.
Then, in the 34th minute, James O’Neill took the ball off the back of a ruck and lunged over the line, sending Canada into the break with a 26-0 lead.
The second half started with more of the same from Canada. Just two minutes in, William McDougall-Percillier took the ball off the back of a driving scrum and slipped through the Hong Kong defence en route to the try line.
In the latter stages, O’Neill scored his second try of the match to round out the scoring.
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