Four teams remain in the hunt to lift the distinctive trophy when the World Rugby U20 Championship 2018 reaches the semi-final stage in France on Tuesday.
England will take on South Africa in the first of the semi-finals at Stade d'Honneur du Parc des sports et de l’Amitie in Narbonne before defending champions New Zealand meet France at Stade Aime Giral in Perpignan.
The host nation are the only one of the quartet never to have reached the title decider in the history of the premier age-grade competition, something they will be looking to put right with the support of a vocal home crowd.
Both semi-finals are a repeat of the 2017 Championship in Georgia. With those encounters fresh in the minds of the participating teams, fans at both stadiums and those watching around the world should be ready for two intense and enthralling World Rugby U20 Championship semi-finals.
The fourth round of matches are equally important for every team, not just the title contenders, as they seek to achieve the best ranking possible or secure their place in the 2019 edition of the World Rugby U20 Championship.
The action gets underway at 14:00 local time (GMT+2) in Narbonne with Wales taking on Argentina in the first fifth place semi-final, followed by Italy against Australia in the other. The two ninth place semi-finals will take place in Perpignan where Ireland meet Scotland and Georgia will face-off against Japan.
SEMI-FINAL: ENGLAND V SOUTH AFRICA
South Africa coach Chean Roux has made seven changes to his starting line-up as he seeks to find the 80-minute performance it will take to reach a first final in four years.
Commentators in Cafes getting coffee. In episode 4, our commentators run through the big talking points from match day three and debate who they think will take a place in the #WorldRugbyU20s final. pic.twitter.com/qrdxcp8DEm— World Rugby (@WorldRugby) June 11, 2018
Fly-half David Coetzer, blindside flanker Phendulani Buthelezi, hooker Tiaan van der Merwe and loose-head prop Alulutho Tshakweni will all earn their first World Rugby U20 Championship starts.
In the backline Rikus Pretorius has recovered from the ankle injury that he sustained against Georgia on day one with his introduction at inside-centre and Coetzer's at fly-half the only changes to an otherwise settled backline.
“England are a very physical and well-coached side. Their set pieces are very good and they have two brilliant wingers, so we need to counter that,” said Roux. “The important thing is not to get ahead of ourselves, but rather to approach it one minute at a time. Our defence has to be solid and so do our set pieces, and we need to keep the pressure on for the full 80 minutes. If we can do that, we should be there at the end.”
These two semi-finalists know each other well having met at this stage last year and, more recently, in a warm-up match during South Africa's tour of the UK. The Junior Springboks won 26-12 that day, but England coach Steve Bates doesn't believe that defeat will have an impact on this semi-final.
"We played South Africa a few weeks ago in Worcester, but I don't think that result will have any bearing on Tuesday's fixture," said Bates. "We know they will be physical, but we are a different side to the one we put out. It will heighten our focus but I don't think it will affect us."
Bates reverts back to the front-row that started their second match against Italy with loose-head Alex Seville, hooker Henry Walker and tight-head Joe Heyes tasked with setting their side's tone up front. Captain Ben Curry and number eight Josh Basham also return into the back-row.
Marcus Smith, who was not part of the match-day squad against Scotland, starts at fly-half with Tom Hardwick moving to inside-centre as a result. Hardwick will partner Fraser Dingwall in England's midfield meaning that Jordan Olowofela moves out to the wing with Tom Parton preferred at full-back.
“My message to the players on Tuesday will be a simple one, these opportunities don’t come around too often, we are in the semi-final of a wonderful competition, playing southern hemisphere opposition and I want them to show their class," said Bates.
"The key thing is not to be overawed by the occasion, but to go out there and attack them.”
SEMI-FINAL: NEW ZEALAND V FRANCE
A full-house is expected at the Stade Aime Giral in Perpignan for this semi-final between the host nation and the defending champions.
When the two sides met at this point 12 months ago, they recorded the most points scored in a single semi-final (65). This year, the two teams have notched up a combined total of 232 points so the signs are pointing towards another high-scoring semi-final.
France are going in search of their first-ever World Rugby U20 Championship final and are looking to stay on track to become only the third host nation to win the tournament after South Africa (2012) and England (2016).
Les Bleuets were simply mesmerising in the first half against South Africa, scoring almost a point minute, and inevitably coach Sebastien Piqueronies has kept faith with that starting line-up, making only one enforced change with prop Hassane Kolingar ruled out of the tournament with a knee injury. His place is taken by Jean Baptiste Gros, with the only other changes being a swap of jerseys for second-rows Killian Geraci and Thomas Lavault.
Six-time winners New Zealand, by contrast, have featured in seven finals and won six of them, including their record-breaking 64-17 defeat of England in last year's final.
“Our goal is to be at the level of the event which is a semi-final of a world championship. We are very excited to play the best in the world,” said Piqueronies.
“We are just a group who wants to produce a type of rugby we are able to perform. And today, the challenge is to give the best of what we are able to produce. The group is very focused and has prepared for this match very well. This match is very important to know if we deserve to go further or not. I think all the group is aware of what the score will be, we will deserve it. And we are up for the challenge.”
Coach Craig Philpott has made four changes to his starting XV, one enforced after loose-head prop Rob Cobb was ruled out of the tournament with an ankle injury. His place is taken by Xavier Numia with the only other change in the forward seeing Will Tucker coming into the second-row.
“It is going to be a massive game in terms of crowd noise. The game against Australia was noisy enough, this is going to be something different,” said Philpott. “The biggest issue is communication and players being able to hear each other. It’s important we have tight connections and that everyone is on the same page.”
New Zealand's backline is largely settled with the only changes being the return of Xavier Roe at scrum-half and Bailyn Sullivan on the right wing. Caleb Clarke, a try-scorer in last year's 39-26 semi-final win over France (main picture), continues on the other wing with Vilimoni Koroi completing a dangerous back three.
“Playing the hosts in their own backyard, what more could you want in a semi-final?” said New Zealand captain Tom Christie, who came off the bench in that win. “We’ll look forward to that. We’ll focus on us this week and make sure that we get that right. It’s going to be one hell of an occasion.”
FIFTH PLACE SEMI-FINAL: WALES V ARGENTINA
Only days after the senior sides met in San Juan, the U20 teams meet in Narbonne with a top six finish up for grabs.
Wales coach Geraint Lewis has made nine changes to his starting line-up, two of which are positional, with Cai Evans moving to fly-half after starting every match at full-back. He will partner the returning Dane Blacker in a new-look half-back pairing with Dewi Cross shifting from the wing to full-back to fill the vacated jersey.
In the pack Lewis has reinstated the second-row pairing that featured against Australia and New Zealand - Max Williams and Rhys Davies - while loose-head prop Rhys Carre and hooker Iestyn Harris come back into the front-row.
“We came to France full of enthusiasm about the prospect of facing unfamiliar teams like Australia and New Zealand, so the fact that we now get to take on another southern hemisphere side has only increased that feeling." said Lewis.
Argentina coach Jose Pellicena also changes his half-backs and has given the nod to the duo that finished their last match against Italy, Manuel Nogues and Joaquin de la Vega Mendia.
Elsewhere in the backline, Agustin Segura takes over from Santiago Chocobares in the midfield with Pablo Avellaneda set for his first start since the opening match day on the right wing.
Openside flanker Juan Ignacio Molina and number eight Santiago Ruiz will form two thirds of a new back-row unit alongside captain Joaquin de la Vega.
FIFTH PLACE SEMI-FINAL: ITALY V AUSTRALIA
A victory for Italy would see them secure their best finish in World Rugby U20 Championship history, while Australia will have their sights set on replicating their 45-29 victory over the Azzurrini at the same stage last year.
The Junior Wallabies had hoped to be contesting for a place in the final, but the 26-21 loss to Wales on the opening day put them on the back foot and they were unable to recover.
Italy come into this play-off off the back of a bonus-point victory over Argentina and coach Fabio Roselli will be eager to keep the momentum going from that confident performance.
Roselli welcomes back loose-head prop Guido Romano and he’ll pack down with two forwards that have started every match - Matteo Luccardi and Michele Mancini Parri. In the Azzurrini's second-row Edoardo Iachizzi and Davide Ruggeri will link up after Jacopo Bianchi was suspended for a dangerous tackle against Argentina.
In the backline Andrea de Masi moves from wing to outside-centre and his place out wide is taken by Albert Einstein Batista, while Michelangelo Biondelli comes in at full-back.
Australia coach Jason Gilmore hands captain Ryan Lonergan his first start at scrum-half since the opening round loss to Wales, one of four changes he makes for this fifth place semi-final.
Lonergan will form a new half-back pairing with Hamish Stewart, while Lawson Creighton gets the nod at full-back and Bayley Kuenzle comes into the line-up at inside-centre.
The Junior Wallabies' pack is a settled one, the front-row trio of Harry Hoopert, Efi Maa’afu and Tom Ross will start for the fourth game in succession with Patrick Tafa’s inclusion at number eight the only change from the line-up beaten by New Zealand.
“Italy have played some really good rugby at this tournament and they are an exciting team. They only lost one game in their Pool to England and have threats all over the park, which we look forward to meeting," said Gilmore. “It’ll be a different style of rugby to what we have played this year, so the team will have to be ready for the challenge and to adapt.”
NINTH PLACE SEMI-FINAL: IRELAND V SCOTLAND
For the second season in a row Ireland find themselves in the play-offs for the bottom four places, while Scotland's bid to better their best-ever position of fifth in 2017 has never got going with both sides yet to taste victory in France.
Ireland coach Noel McNamara has made five personnel changes as his side look to avoid the tension of an 11th place play-off on the final day which will see the loser relegated to the World Rugby U20 Trophy in 2019.
Michael Silvester and Harry Byrne return at full-back and fly-half respectively in a reshuffled backline which sees centres James Hume and Tommy O'Brien move to the wings and Sean O'Brien and Peter Sylvester pairing up to form a new midfield combination.
Tight-head prop Joe Byrne comes in for his first start while Joe Dunleavy and Matthew Agnew join captain and number eight Caelan Doris in the back-row.
"We had three tough pool games and while there were lots of positives to take from the games, unfortunately they weren't reflected on the scoreboard,” said McNamara. "Scotland will present another big challenge for the team. Having played them in the Under-20 Six Nations earlier this season and also in a warm-up fixture in Edinburgh ahead of this tournament, we know what to expect from them."
His Scotland counterpart Bryan Redpath has also rung the changes for this encounter with only five players remaining from the starting XV that lost to England last time out.
“We’ve chosen a strong, experienced side who we believe have the talent and attitude to get a positive result,” said Redpath. “The boys know how intense the clash will be and we’ll have to match their intensity from the get go.”
Redpath has reverted back to the bulk of the pack that featured against Argentina in their second encounter of the pool stages.
Jamie Hodgson and Marshall Sykes will take the reins in the engine room with Martin Hughes, Rory Darge and Devante Onojaife combining together in the back-row. Loose-head prop Sam Grahamslaw returns into the front-row as Ross Dunbar drops to the bench.
Captain Stafford McDowall returns to lead the side from inside-centre and partners Cameron Hutchison, while a fresh half-back pairing sees fly-half Callum McLelland linking up with Scotland’s leading points scorer in the competition, Charlie Chapman.
NINTH PLACE SEMI-FINAL: GEORGIA V JAPAN
Georgia come into this ninth place semi-final off the back of their biggest scalp in World Rugby U20 Championship history, a 24-20 victory over Ireland in Narbonne, while Japan lost by just a single-point to Wales at the end of the pool stages.
The Junior Lelos have shuffled their forward pack with Lasha Jaiani returning to partner captain Beka Saghinadze in the second-row with Arseni Machaladze shifting to number eight. He is joined in the back row by the impressive Tornike Jalagonia and Sandro Mamamtavrishvili.
The backline is largely unchanged with Giorgi Tsiklauri moving out one to accommodate the return of Lasha Lomidze at inside-centre.
Japan narrowly lost out to Wales 18-17 in the final match of pool stages and coach Satoru Endo has the luxury of being able to field the same starting line-up for this encounter with flanker Hisanobu Okayama continuing to lead by example.