France will contest their first-ever World Rugby U20 Championship final after they fed off the passion of the sold-out Stade Aime Giral crowd to end New Zealand’s hopes of winning back-to-back titles with a 16-7 victory on Tuesday.
Les Bleuets had produced a sublime display of attacking rugby to blow South Africa away in the first half of their semi-final, but this time it was their resolute defence and dominance of the New Zealand scrum that gave them the platform to set up a title showdown with 2017 runners-up England in Béziers on Sunday.
The 13,866 fans lucky enough to be inside the Stade Aime Giral in Perpignan created a cacophony of noise which inspired the French, leaving six-time champions New Zealand to contemplate a third place play-off with South Africa, who came up just short in their second-half fight-back, going down 32-31 to England in Narbonne.
While it will be France’s first final, it will be England’s sixth in a row, although they came close to surrendering a commanding lead just as their senior team had against the Springboks in Johannesburg last weekend before ultimately getting over the line.
Semi-finals day had begun at the Stade d’Honneur du Parc des sports et de l’Amitie in Narbonne with the two ninth place semi-finals, Argentina producing a strong second-half display to beat Wales 39-15 before Australia overcame an early red card to battle past Italy 44-15.
The ninth place semi-finals were equally dramatic in Perpignan as Scotland staged their own rousing comeback to beat Celtic rivals Ireland 45-29, before Georgia left it to the dying minutes to break Japanese hearts with Gela Aprasidze’s try securing a 24-22 victory the guaranteed the Junior Lelos’ place in the 2019 Championship.
The tournament concludes on Sunday with all six matches taking place in Béziers. First up, at 11:00 local time (GMT+2), will be the 11th place play-off between 2016 runners-up Ireland and Japan with the loser relegated to the World Rugby U20 Trophy 2019.
Scotland and Georgia then meet over ninth place, before Wales face Italy for seventh. Inside the Stade de la Méditerranée, Argentina and Australia will kick-off proceedings in the fifth place play-off at 14:00 before New Zealand and South Africa battle for bronze. The final kicks off at 19:00 local time.