U20 Samoa promoted back to youth rugby’s elite

Samoa’s trophy winning ‘Siva Tau’

IRB’s Junior World Rugby Trophy 2011 concluded on Sunday, June 5 in Tbilisi. 16 matches were played in total at ‘Shevardeni’ and ‘Avchala’ stadiums, out of which eight were transmitted live on Georgia’s public broadcaster, while 12 matches were available for streaming on internet.

Each of the four match-days, along with the play-off stage, proved to be action-packed and provided much amusement for the fans and the press. Good – and at some instances very skillful rugby was on display at smaller, but comfortable venues, where appropriate music, nice design and rugby product stores only added up to viewers’ enjoyment. Uncommonly pleasant for Georgia, the matches were served in a safe and secure environment, while festive atmosphere was maintained throughout whole tournament by both local and visiting supporters. Undoubtedly disappointing, Georgia’s failure to win the trophy in no way undermines the importance of the hard work put in these two weeks: during this time, the fans had the opportunity to live with rugby, to attend the matches of potential future stars and to enjoy well-organized high-class tournament. And it’s not just bragging, seven participating countries left Tbilisi with pleasant memories from warm, friendly attitudes and top training and playing conditions.

In the final match, the trophy was contested in a worthy game – Samoa and Japan playing truly exceptional rugby. Though, other play-off matches also did not disappoint. On the contrary, the matches for third, fifth, and seventh places offered us much tension and fierce battles.

Samoa – Japan. June 5. Final
USA took the seventh place in a dramatic match against Zimbabwe. Americans managed to defeat African champions by only one point.

Zimbabweans were first to score a try, but soon Americans equalized and never gave up the lead. The Africans were closing on, ending the first half with the same one point deficit. US team dominated on the pitch thanks to stronger pack and overall strength, while fast and skillful Africans were eager to attack at every opportunity. Their light and adventurous style of play won them hearts of local supporters, despite losing every match in the tournament. Even though Zimbabwe came last, they will be sparkled with various attacking combinations and spectacular tries.

The fifth place was contested in a northern derby among Canada and Russia. These are the teams who were not particularly happy with the warm May weather in Georgia. Our neighbors expressed their complaints more eagerly; however, to be honest, the weather conditions were not the decisive factor in the games, as was proved by the result of this match. Canada started confidently, led by skipper Tyler Ardron (N8), fly half Carlain Hamstra – who distributed the ball impressively, and unstoppable winger Jeff Hassler – who scored a hat-trick. Russians – having only two real chances in the first half – got one try when a flanker Nikolay Pochechuev expertly passed through four tackles. Canada ended the first half with seven tries, while the both teams added two more in the second period, to seal the deserved victory and a fitting fifth place for Canada.

Georgia and Uruguay faced off at Avchala stadium for the third place game. These two teams have previously clashed on 2008 Junior World Rugby Trophy, in Chile. At that time, the South Americans defeated us to take the place in final. Now, ‘the Lelos’ managed to get their revenge in a close game. The hosts enjoyed slightly more territorial advantage and possession, while Uruguayans often chose to use the boot – even though not gaining any considerable benefits by it. Both defenses were strictly organized and aggressive, which inevitably led to a more closed game. As a result, the fans witnessed a tight, ‘old school’ rugby. In the beginning, it was only the kickers who succeeded – Bakhva Kobakhidze and Felipe Berchesi scoring two penalties apiece. The first try came as the Uruguayans lost the ball in a turn over – a series of rucks followed, as a result of which Levan Chilachava got the hold of the ball and went for the try.
Georgians bettered the rivals with a slightly more physicality and soon, Ucha Mchedlishvili scored the second. Uruguayans failed to cut the 14 point deficit in the second half. However, after captain Felipe Berchesi kicked two long-distance penalties and Rodrigo Silva added a fabulous drop-goal, the lead came down to just five points. What’s more, with five minutes of play remaining, Georgians were left a man less. The South Americans went for the final onslaught but our defense stood firm to secure the victory for Georgia.

Post match comments:

Uruguayan team captain, Felipe Berchesi: “I would like to thank the IRB and the Georgian Rugby Union for the wonderful Junior World Rugby Trophy we enjoyed. As for the final results, I believe the outcome is fair.”

Georgia’s Vice-captain Giorgi Tkesheliadze: “Uruguay has good forwards, but we managed to create advantages. It is very unfortunate that we lost against Japan and missed the final, but I am happy that we finished our participation in the tournament with a win.”

Georgia’s head coach Paata Narimanashvili: “The first and second halves were totally different. I am happy we managed to win this game. It is true that we committed many mistakes and allowed our opponent to play on. Uruguay has a high potential to develop into a really good national side in the near future.”

It’d be fair to say that the crowd witnessed truly high class rugby in the final. Without a doubt, the motivation was high for both teams – the winner would seal a place in the next year’s Junior World Championship. It was also bitter for them, as Samoans were relegated from the elite last year – five current team members participated in that tournament – while Japan lost a promotion to Italy in the final of last year’s trophy. The predictions were pretty cautious before the game – a slim majority expected Samoans to win, but some appeared to be more careful after Japan’s strong showing and their victory over Georgia. Likewise, a number of neutral supporters just could not draw a line between these two sides.

However, the beginning of the game surprised everyone. As the match progressed, Japan quickly gained a 17 point lead with two converted tries and a penalty. Samoans looked at a loss, not expecting such a strong start from their rivals. One of the early scrums in the Samoan half resulted in a first try – Olive Taufa (N8), overlooked by opposition third rowers, sent the ball in scrum half Uchida’s way, whose long pass found wing Masakatasu Hikosaka, the latter expertly dribbled through two defenders to score a try. Soon after, the Japanese formed a strong lineout drive, followed by hooker Yoshikatsu Hikosaka’s successful dive. 20 minutes had to be passed for Samoans to recover, before long, they increased the speed of play and started exploiting the holes in the opposition’s defense. Consequently, Jordan Taufua and Robert Lilomaiava scored two converted tries in the interval of few minutes. The third try came as centre Faavae Faavae promptly trailed fly half Patrick Fa’apale’s clever long ball. This gave the Samoan team a two point advantage going in to the break.

The game got extremely tight in the second half. The play went try-less for 20 minutes, until Samoan wing Viliamu Alauni managed to score an unconverted try. Now Samoa led by seven points, but Japan fought hard – effectively gaining a considerable possession by rolling a maul – prop Mao Enoki emerged to claim a try, followed by Nakamura’s conversion. At that point, with the score level, extra time was hugely anticipated. However the Samoans displayed a brilliant determination once more, to finish off Japan with Fa’apale’s flawless long pass and fullback Peter Schuster’s victorious try.

Post match comments:

Japanese coach Yukio Motoki: “The Samoans were very strong and we couldn’t control their unstructured attacking. They kept coming at us. At this tournament we realised how high the standard is.”

Japan captain Keisuke Uchida: “The experience of playing in such as a final is something that will always be with me.”

John Schuster, Samoa’s head coach: “We were making a lot of mistakes in the first quarter, missing try-scoring opportunities. Japan played extremely well today; they had a well-structured game, forcing us into many mistakes. I felt that for us the key was when we managed to string phases, managed to make no mistakes and control the ball better. We feel very lucky to have won.” 


Georgian time


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