Les Bleuets add to their 2018 and 2019 titles with the most convincing of victories over Ireland in the World Rugby U20 Championship 2023 final in South Africa. While France celebrated, Japan have been relegated to the U20 Trophy following a 45-27 defeat to Italy.
France have won the World Rugby U20 Championship for a third consecutive tournament, adding to their triumphs in 2018 and 2019 with a 50-14 victory over Ireland in the final at the Athlone Sports Stadium in Cape Town, South Africa.
Les Bleuets were not perfect but when it really mattered, they put on a show, especially in the second half after an even-handed first half that saw the lead change hands four times.
The game-changing moment came when Paddy McCarthy was sin-binned just before half-time and Les Bleuets capitalised to the tune of 14 points.
Ireland battled bravely to the last but France made it a Bastille Day to remember.
Earlier, South Africa ended their home tournament on a high with a 22-15 win over England in a physical third-place play-off.
All the points were scored in the first half with neither side able to break the deadlock after the break but the result was all that mattered to the rapturous home crowd in Cape Town.
Elsewhere in the opening match of the final day, Dewi Passarella scored a hat-trick of tries as Italy beat Japan 45-27 to win the 11th-place play-off and secure their place in next year’s U20 Championship.
Defeat at Danie Craven Stadium means that Japan will compete in the World Rugby U20 Trophy in 2024.
The fifth-place play-off got play underway at Athlone Sports Stadium in Cape Town, two tries each for Henry O’Donnell and Toby MacPherson helping Australia to a 57-33 win over Wales.
Argentina secured ninth place with a 43-22 defeat of Fiji at Danie Craven Stadium, with the seventh-place play-off wrapping up the action in Stellenbosch as New Zealand finished strongly to beat Georgia 50-26.
FINAL: IRELAND 14-50 FRANCE
Flamboyant France turned on the style in the second half to claim a hat-trick of World Rugby U20 Championship titles.
With the senior team bidding to become men’s Rugby World Cup winners later this year, Les Bleuets set a fine example for them to follow with, an at times, breathtaking display of running rugby.
Ireland made a good fist of it before the break as they sought to go one better than 2016 when they finished runners-up to England, but France blunted their attacking lineout weapon and scoring opportunities were limited.
By the same token, France were utterly clinical when it mattered, converting 11 entries into the Irish 22 into a half-century of points.
It was Ireland who were on the scoreboard first, though, the U20 Six Nations champions being rewarded for a fast start when scrum-half Fintan Gunne took a quick tap penalty and squirmed through Posolo Tuilagi’s legs for an opportunist score in the fourth minute.
However, France quickly served noticed of what they are all about when a brilliant handling move down the left resulted in a try for Mathis Ferté.
Classy centre Paul Costes started the move with an out-the-back offload to winger Léo Drouet, who also managed to get the ball away in contact to find Baptiste Jauneau. The scrum-half, a livewire throughout, sped down the touchline before drawing his man to perfection and delivering the try-scoring pass to Ferté.
Unforced errors and needless penalties stymied Les Bleuets’ attempts to strike again, though, and after Hugo Reus slotted a penalty, Ireland reclaimed the lead when centre John Devine hit the line at pace to finish off a crash-ball move.
Sam Prendergast was on the money again with his conversion and Ireland looked set to lead at half-time for the fifth consecutive game of the tournament. But, in the end, they were grateful to be only three points adrift after France reclaimed the lead and then had a try disallowed just before the interval.
Tuilagi played a big part in both incidents, creating just enough space with a big carry that sucked in two defenders in the build-up to prop Lino Julien’s try. But he was also responsible for Oscar Jegou’s effort being ruled out after the TMO spotted the giant second-row had obstructed an Irish defender.
Having been reduced to 14 men after losing Paddy McCarthy to the sin-bin for collapsing a maul, Ireland were relieved to only trail 17-14.
But France did not allow them any respite at the start of the second half, converting on their first visit to the 22, with Pierre Jouvin getting the try.
Three minutes later France scored again to really set Ireland back on their heels. Showing their brilliance in transition play, Les Bleuets worked the ball into the hands of Nicolas Depoortere, who exploited a weak shoulder in defence, straightened up, and powered his way to the line for his fifth try of the tournament.
With Reus converting both tries, Ireland had conceded 14 points while McCarthy was off the field and by the time he returned, Les Bleuets led 31-14.
Ireland dug in desperately in an attempt to stay in the final but after 25 minutes without scoring, including a rare penalty miss for Hugo Reus, France decided to go through the gears.
Number eight Marko Gazzotti was everywhere and received his third Mastercard Player of the Match award in South Africa and with it the overall Mastercard Player of the Tournament accolade. Dogged defence, brilliant kick-chases, powerful runs and hits … Gazzotti produced the lot, other than a try.
Once Ferté got his second, on 69 minutes, there was no holding France back.
Captain Lenni Nouchi galloped over from 40 metres out after Jegou caught Ireland unawares by picking up at the base and there was still time for Drouet to get in on the act, the winger finishing off another fluent handling move.
With Reus rediscovering his radar and slotting the final two conversions, France brought up a half-century of points in what was a victory for running rugby.
THIRD PLACE PLAY-OFF: SOUTH AFRICA 22-15 ENGLAND
South Africa claimed their ninth U20 Championship bronze medal with a superb defensive and forward display.
All the points were scored in the first half with the Junior Springboks responding in a magnificent fashion after Connor Slevin’s penalty had given England an early lead.
Despite coming off second-best at scrum time, the forward pack really stood up to be counted in all other areas with their strong counter-rucking and mauling game taking the fight to England.
Flanker Hennie Sieberhagen was the first to crash over from a pick-and-go and the powerful Corné Beets soon added a second close-range effort after a punchy run from Damian Markus had put England on the back foot.
With Jean Smith adding a penalty, South Africa had reeled off 17 points without reply but England hit back against the run of play with the pick of the tries on 23 minutes when winger Cassius Cleaves made a brilliant break from just inside his own 22 and raced 60 metres before finding Craig Wright up in support on an unstoppable run to the line.
Resolute South African defence prevented England from gaining a foothold in the match and it was the Junior Springboks who scored next with Wright’s opposite number, Juann Else, dotting down from the back of an advancing maul.
England had the final say in the half, however, scoring from a shift drive at the lineout having messed up an earlier opportunity when they tried to be more ambitious and Wright had his pass picked off by Smith. Slevin knocked over the conversion to make it a one-score game at the interval.
It was all England in the first 10 minutes of the second half and Chandler Cunningham-South was inches away from becoming the sixth forward to score, but the Junior Springboks held out and then started to reassert their authority on the game.
A brilliant turnover from tight-head Afolabi Fasogbon inside the England 22 put paid to a sustained South African attack before Alex Wills went close from a slick backs move at the other end.
After a long period of play between the 22s, dominated by the forwards slugging it out, South Africa had a chance to break the second-half deadlock in the 67th minute but Smith pushed his penalty attempt wide.
England finished the stronger but breaks from the hard-running Cunningham-South and Wills came to nothing and South Africa’s ability to seize turnover ball denied the men in white time and time again.
FIFTH-PLACE PLAY-OFF: WALES 33-57 AUSTRALIA
Australia finished their campaign on a high with victory in a high-scoring fifth-place play-off against Wales at Athlone Sports Stadium in Stellenbosch.
The Junior Wallabies, runners-up in 2019, started brightly and, after a dominant carry by prop Nick Bloomfield – in which Wales lost second-row Evan Hill to a shoulder injury – fast hands out wide put outside-centre Henry O’Donnell over in the right corner.
Australia nearly doubled their lead minutes later but were penalised at the breakdown with the try-line at their mercy. This allowed Wales, who had struggled for possession early on, back into the game.
Replacement second-row Mackenzie Martin had the ball ripped out of his hands as he crossed the Australia line, but then his great running line and offload opened up the defence before hooker Lewis Lloyd went over to make it 5-5.
Back came Australia, though. Second-row Toby MacPherson dived over from close range after his team had opted to kick for the corner from a penalty instead of going for goal. Then, from another attacking lineout, hooker Liam Bowron broke away from a rolling maul to make it 15-5.
But with no successful conversions, Wales were not out of it, and nearly scored with the last play of the half, only to be held up over the line.
It proved a pivotal moment. Australia started the second half as they had the first, O’Donnell again taking advantage of wave after wave of dummy runners to cruise over.
Wales responded immediately after a great pick up and finish from Llien Morgan made it a two-score game.
MacPherson bagged his second for Australia, though, sauntering through a gap against a tiring Wales defence, and the Junior Wallabies scored again straight from the kick-off, scrum-half and captain Teddy Wilson finishing off an end-to-end move.
Fly-half Jack Bowen made it try number seven just beyond the hour mark, after the Australia wingers combined superbly.
A clever kick through by Daniel Edwards put Morgan in for his second and Wales’ third try before captain Ryan Woodman added a fourth – a reward for another industrious display by the blindside flanker.
Australia weren’t finished, though, two more well-worked lineouts resulting in tries for replacement prop Marley Pearce and openside flanker Ned Slack-Smith.
Wales had the last say with a consolation score for replacement scrum-half Harri Williams.
SEVENTH-PLACE PLAY-OFF: GEORGIA 26-50 NEW ZEALAND
New Zealand survived a powerful and determined Georgian fight-back to finish seventh for the second U20 Championship running, giving outgoing coach Clark Laidlaw the perfect send-off from his last match in charge.
It was the proverbial game of two halves, as New Zealand’s pace told in the first half, and Georgia’s power was the talking point of the second.
Georgia – guaranteed their best finish in the U20 Championship no matter the result – had found New Zealand’s pace too hot to handle early on. Defensively, they have been very solid all tournament, but the bare statistics showed they missed 12 of 38 tackles in the first 35 minutes at Danie Craven Stadium.
New Zealand took full advantage, scoring five tries in a thoroughly impressive opening half hour of pace and patience. Caleb Tangitau ran in two long-range, highlight-reel scores, scrum-half Noah Hotham finished off a third spectacular touchdown, and Mastercard Player of the Match Peter Lakai’s strike move try off a lineout could be a learning tool in rugby academies. Second-row Will Stodart’s score, as he finished off a series of phases, was almost mundane in comparison.
But Lado Kilasonia’s side do not give in easily. They scored twice in the last 10 minutes of the opening period. Full-back Vazha Mikadze ghosted through for their first after Georgia had phased their way deep into New Zealand’s 22. And a penalty kick to touch when New Zealand prop Ben Ake was yellow-carded for a high tackle, was mauled over the try-line. Hooker Basa Khonelidze benefited from his pack’s composed power as the line beckoned.
The second half began as the first had ended, with Georgia’s direct and forceful game taking control. They had already been held up over the line once when replacement prop Irakli Aptsiauri took defenders over the line with him to bring the Junior Lelos to within 12 points with just over 20 minutes left on the clock.
Minutes later, Malachi Wrampling had just returned from a yellow card for collapsing a maul as it marched to the line, when Georgia’s pack repeated the trick from a lineout to come within seven points of an upset at 33-26. Khonelidze was given the score, but it was another pack effort.
But their hopes of a first win in three meetings against New Zealand took a blow as Taha Kemara calmly slotted a penalty to extend the lead to 10 points. And the match ended how the first had started, as Che Clark sliced through the defensive line to settle any New Zealand nerves with a score 10 minutes from time, before they were awarded a late penalty try for a deliberate knock-on to reach 50 points.
NINTH-PLACE PLAY-OFF: FIJI 22-43 ARGENTINA
Fiji had secured their first win of the tournament against Italy on day four, and they clearly came into Friday full of confidence.
Ratu Kavaia Tagivetaua scored the opening try of the match in the eighth minute, emerging from a powerful driving maul to cap a fine start for Fiji.
That was as good as things got for the Pacific Islanders in the first half, however, as Argentina hit back with a fine team try that was finished off by winger Valentín Soler Filloy.
Fijian fly-half Philip Baselala was then sent to the sin-bin in the 18th minute, for a breakdown infringement, and Los Pumitas ran in a pair of tries in his absence.
Hooker Valentino Minoyetti came up with the first, following a powerful lineout drive, before centre Ernesto Giudice finished off another good team move in the left corner.
Argentina’s dominance continued after Baselala had returned to the pitch and they added further tries before half-time, through captain Eliseo Chiavassa and quick-thinking scrum-half Tomás Di Biase.
The players’ departure for the interval was delayed, though, as referee Ben Breakspear checked a series of incidents that ended with a yellow card for Los Pumitas winger Mateo Soler.
It took less than two minutes of the second half for Fiji to make their numerical advantage pay as Waqa Nalaga broke through two attempted tackles and sprinted over the line.
Hopes of a Fijian comeback were raised shortly afterwards as Argentina second-row Mateo Lorenzo was sent to the sin-bin.
It was Argentina who struck next, however, their lineout drive being sacked illegally as it rumbled towards the line, resulting in a penalty try and yellow card for Timoci Nakalevu.
Fiji did not concede while Nakalevu was off the field and grabbed their third try of the match following a sensational break from full-back Isikeli Basiyalo, who took the ball from his own 22 to the Argentine try-line.
And after Chiavassa had knocked on as he attempted to ground the ball on the line, Fiji crossed the whitewash for a fourth time – Basiyalo in the right place to dot down after Pateresio Finau had been hauled down just short of the line.
There were still around 14 minutes to play at Danie Craven Stadium, but Argentina soon made sure of victory, Mastercard Player of the Match Chiavassa sniping over for his second try to help extend their lead to 43-22.
That was the way the scoreline would stay, although there was still time for Argentina to lose flanker Facundo García Hamilton to a red card, upgraded from yellow, and Fiji winger Sireli Masiwini to be sent to the sin-bin.
11TH-PLACE PLAY-OFF: ITALY 45-27 JAPAN
Japan had made a habit of starting matches quickly during this tournament, but it was Italy who stormed out of the blocks at Danie Craven Stadium.
Less than one minute was on the clock when Azzurrini centre Dewi Passarella profited from good interplay between Simone Brisighella and Filippo Bozzoni to score the opening try.
It was Japan’s turn to respond, and they did so in style, virtually setting up camp in the Italian 22 for the next 15 minutes. The Japanese went close through Yoshitaka Yazaki, who was bundled into touch five metres out.
And as the pressure mounted in the 13th minute, Bozzoni was sent to the sin-bin for a deliberate knock-on with Japan again threatening the line. Japan made their numerical advantage pay almost immediately as captain Yoshiki Omachi crashed over.
Kanjiro Naramoto converted to edge the Japanese in front, but Italy soon had their second try of the match as scrum-half Lorenzo Casilio sniped over the line following a powerful carry from prop Marcos Francesco Gallorini.
Although Japan continued to build good possession and territory, it was Italy – back up to 15 players – who scored next when Alessandro Gesi gathered a cross-field kick, bounced out of a couple of tackles and stepped inside the covering defender.
It was a brilliant try, and although Naramoto ate into the Italian lead with a penalty five minutes later, it was an advantage they stretched further with a fourth try on the stroke of half-time. Mastercard Player of the Match Passarella claimed it, again powering over from close range.
Japan needed to score next to give themselves a chance of finding a way back into the match and they did just that six minutes into the second half as Renji Oike finished off a good team move.
Naramoto missed the conversion to leave the deficit in double digits, however, and Italy captain David Odiase soon took the game even further away from them with the Azzurrini’s fifth try.
That was compounded in the 62nd minute when replacement Yutaro Takahashi was guilty of a dangerous tackle on Bozzoni and the TMO bunker upgraded the initial yellow card to red.
Italy added more tries as gaps began to open up, as Bozzoni went over before Passarella completed his hat-trick to extend his side’s lead to 45-15 and confirm their U20 Championship safety.
Japan hit back with two tries in the final five minutes, Keito Hayashi profiting from a charge down before Kota Nagashima dotted down at the back of a driving maul. It made the final score more respectable but could not save them from relegation to the U20 Trophy.