New Zealand will play France and England face South Africa in the semi-finals of the World Rugby U20 Championship.

The third day of action at the tournament in Georgia promised close-fought battles with teams chasing a semi-final place or trying to avoid a spot in the relegation zone and it didn’t disappoint.

In one of the most exciting games of the day, England secured their place in the last four with a dramatic one-point win over Australia while New Zealand put Ireland to the sword to top their pool.

In a predictably close encounter earlier in the day, Scotland and Italy exchanged tries early in the first half, with Scotland scoring after just 6 minutes. Scotland pulled ahead with a score by flanker Luke Crosbie, while Italy’s fly half Antonio Rizzi successfully kicked a penalty to leave Italy just two points behind at the break. It was Rizzi’s boot that was nearly the undoing of the Scots, until the Scotland pack powered over for a Tom Dodd try. They held on for the final 20 minutes to edge the win, 17-16.

Further east in Tbilisi, Wales opened the scoring against Samoa, with three further tries in the first half giving the Welsh a strong lead going into the break, and the momentum was with them from the restart. Shane Lewis-Hughes got his second try minutes into the second half and, despite Samoa getting over the line twice, they could not wrestle back the lead, Wales triumphing, 54-20.

Argentina and South Africa faced off in another crucial match and for the first 30 minutes, it was a close-fought contest, but before the break South Africa pulled away in style with five tries – including a brace for Johan Grobbelaar – and a masterful South African side crossed the line a further six times in the second half with stand-out performances from Manie Libbok and Curwin Bosch. It finished 14-72 and guaranteed South Africa a semi-final berth.

Big scores also featured at the AIA Arena, with Ireland thoroughly routed by a superb New Zealand side. With Ireland fighting to stay out of the relegation zone, they were left reeling as they scored only one penalty and shipped five tries before half time, including two apiece for Caleb Clarke and Will Jordan. Another six followed for New Zealand in the second half as Clarke and Jordan both claimed their hat tricks and fly-half Tiaan Falcon added his own try. The 3-69 final score left Ireland – last years finalists – in the bottom four.

While Georgia were looking for their first win in their home tournament, a bonus-point win for France after the Argentina v South Africa result would mean they were still in the mix for a semi-final spot as highest runners-up. Despite another physical challenge the home side and a partisan crowd, France controlled the match and dominated an injury-weakened Georgian team. With four tries on either side of half time, France sealed second place in Pool C with a comfortable 54-0 win.

Semi-finals places were still up for grabs when England took to the pitch against Australia, and early penalties on both sides suggested the teams were taking time to settle before centre Sione Tuipulotu went over for the Southern Hemisphere team. Scrum half Harrison Goddard added the conversion and two further penalties, giving Australia the lead. But England fought back to within striking distance after an audacious one-handed diving try for winger Gabriel Ibitoye just before half time and the pack powering over for prop Marcus Street to score on the other side of the break – giving England the lead for the first time. Goddard’s replacement Harry Nucifora added a crucial three points with less than 10 minutes to go and it looked like Australian had turned it round, but a 78th minute penalty against prop Harry Johnson-Holmes let England retake the lead and top the pool by just one point.

The action resumes on Tuesday, 13 June when games will be played at the Avchala Stadium and the Mikheil Meskhi Stadium in Tbilisi.