The tenth World Rugby U20 Championship got off to a thrilling start on Wednesday as the world’s top 12 teams showcased open, running rugby in the Avchala Stadium in Tbilisi and the AIA Stadium in Kutaisi.
Defending champions England opened their account with a resounding win over Samoa, who are back in the top flight after winning the World Rugby U20 Trophy in 2016. England made their intentions for 2017 clear, executing a tight game plan that denied Samoa any chance to get into their stride, with an emphatic 74-17 win.
West of Tbilisi, New Zealand started their performance with a stirring haka in Kutaisi, the first on Georgian soil, ahead of a close-fought first-half in which Scotland held off a strong attack from the Baby Blacks, but a hat-trick for Lotima Faingaanuku sealed the 42-20 win.
In perhaps the biggest shock of the day, Italy took an early lead and dominated the first half against Ireland, and despite a comeback from the boys in green, Italy staged a late fight to seal a stunning 22-21 victory – the Azzurrini’s first Championship win since 2014.
Back in Tbilisi, a topsy-turvy match between South Africa and France led to the first ever draw in the tournament’s history, with fly-half Curwin Bosch converting in the last play to pull level, 23-23.
South African coach Chean Roux said: “The team showed a great character. This is something that we have spoken about during the tournament, what’s going to happen if we are behind in the last 10 minutes, and then the conditioning actually put us through it. They’ve been a better side and I think that was the difference between losing the game and drawing the game.”
Up next were host nation Georgia, who brought a vocal crowd – and the travelling Argentina fans matched their efforts to create a thrilling stadium atmosphere in Avchala for the third match of the day. It was a physical display from both sides, but Argentina’s defence saw off the Georgian challenge to take the match, 37-26.
The final match of the day saw Australia take on Wales, and it very nearly proved to be the second ever tie of the Championship, until Australian centre Izaia Perese cut a blinding arc through the Welsh defence to plant the ball over the line. The conversion put Australia 24-17 ahead to clinch the win in the dying moments.
The second day of action from this year’s tournament kicks off next Sunday, 4 June.