PARIS, France, Jun 13 – A teak-tough France led by indomitable 17-year-old No 8 Jordan Joseph notched up a memorable 16-7 victory over six-time winners New Zealand on Tuesday to set up a maiden World Rugby U20 Championship final against England.
The odds were stacked against the tournament’s host nation, the Baby Blacks having won six of the last seven under-20 finals, including a record-breaking 64-17 defeat of England in last year’s final.
But Joseph, recently snapped up by Racing 92, along with teammates, centre Pierre Louis Barassi and flanker Antonin Berruyer, had other ideas.
The trio were part of a team which gave their senior counterparts — 52-11 losers to the All Blcaks in the first of three Tests last weekend — a useful reminder of the importance of going toe-to-toe with New Zealand and pouncing on any mistakes, on a sultry Tuesday night in Perpignan where the ‘Marseillaise’ rang out with gay abandon.
“Absolutely bloody delighted!” beamed France prop Daniel Brennan, son of former Leinster, Toulouse and Ireland enforcer Trevor.
“We had an absolute cracker of a game against one of the best countries in the world.”
New Zealand skipper Tom Christie added: “Rugby’s a game you never want to lose, sometimes you end up on the wrong side of the result.
“Credit to the French, they’re an amazing outfit and when you make mistakes, they punish you.”
France dominated the Baby Blacks in the first-half at a packed Stade Aime Giral.
Romain N’tamack, son of former France winger Emile, spurned a chance to go for goal on 26 minutes, instead kicking to the corner for an attacking line-out.
The ensuing drive was foiled, Lionel Carbonel stepping up to notch up an easy three points to hand France the lead.
Matthis Lebel should have stretched that lead on the stroke of half-time, but the winger was unable to field a pinpoint Carbonel cross-field kick, with not a New Zealander at home.
France crossed for their deserved first try when N’tamack scythed through after a sustained period of pressure early in the second period, Carbonel converting.
The fly-half then booted a 50th minute penalty from 42 metres to push France out to a good-looking 13-0.
Carbonel, and then N’tamack with a long-range effort, both missed with penalties as New Zealand continued to infringe.
– Range refound –
But Carbonel eventually refound his range, firing over a penalty to extend his team’s lead before a vocal partisan crowd.
It was not over, however, New Zealand fly-half Harry Plummer crashing over through Lebel’s tackle for a try he also converted after a midfield break by winger Caleb Clarke.
France were then let off the hook straight from the restart, Kiwi lock Laghlan McWhannell guilty of holding on too long after an advance directly into French territory and replacement hooker Ricky Jackson knocking on with a try looking imminent.
France will now play England in Sunday’s final in Beziers, while New Zealand face off against South Africa.
England had taken on South Africa in the first of the semi-finals at Stade d’Honneur du Parc des sports et de l’Amitie in Narbonne.
And what a humdinger it proved to be, England running out 32-31 winners of a thrilling match that was a veritable tale of two halves.
The English, led by Harlequins fly-half Marcus Smith, leapt out to a 22-7 half-time lead thanks to tries from two Toms, Parton and Hardwick, and Ben White.
South Africa hit back with tries either side of half-time from Sazi Sandl and Muller Uys before Jordan Owolofela scored a vital intercept to hand England some much-needed breathing space.
Ruan Nortje and Manny Rass then crossed for two further tries for the Baby Boks, both converted by Giani Lombard.
It all left for a frantic final seven minutes as England lock James Scott was red carded for persistent infringements.
South Africa took immediate advantage and scored through a Asenathi Ntlabakanye try converted by Lombard, but the Red Rose held out for a nail-biting win.
Australia, 44-15 winers over Italy earlier Tuesday, will play Argentina, 39-15 victors over Wales, for the fifth-placed spot.