Hosts New Zealand were given a real workout by Samoa on day one of the IRB Junior World Championship 2014 on Monday, the 48-12 result not a fair reflection of how closely-fought the final match of the day was at QBE Stadium.
Elsewhere, England got their title defence off to an impressive start with a 63-3 win over Italy. 2012 winners South Africa ran in seven second-half tries to overwhelm a plucky Scotland 61-5; Australia kicked the tournament off with a 36-17 win over Argentina; Wales scored a try straight from the kick-off en route to a 48-19 win over Fiji and France edged the tightest battle of the day, 19-13 against Ireland.
Pool A: England 63-3 Italy
England top the standings after round one, albeit only on point difference from Australia after both recorded bonus point victories over Italy and Argentina respectively at ECOLight Stadium in Pukekohe. The defending champions traded penalties early on as the temperature dropped for the final match of the day at the venue, but then began to build pressure and the tries started to come with wing Nathan Earle grabbing a hat-trick and forwards James Chisholm and Gus Jones a brace each.
Captain Callum Braley said: “We’re pleased to kick off our tournament with a win – the score line doesn’t reflect what a physical game that was. Italy came pretty hard at us and we really had to step up – we were a bit more clinical in the second half, and we needed to be.”
Pool A: Argentina 17-36 Australia
Australia had been equally impressive with captain Sean McMahon leading by example in a dominant forward display. Time and again Australian forwards celebrated a successful scrum and the hard work done by the forwards created the space for the backs to run in three of the four tries. Andrew Kellaway raced in for two with his fellow wing Brad Lacey dotting down the other.
“I am very satisfied with the way we played today and it was a true team performance that enabled us to win. Our forwards laid an excellent platform for success by dominating the scrums throughout the match which allowed our backs to have a constant opportunity to attack,” said coach Adrian Thompson.
Pool B: Wales 48-19 Fiji
Wales, runners up in 2013, started their campaign with perhaps the quickest try in international rugby, wing Dafydd Howells collecting Angus O’Brien’s kick-off to coast over unchallenged after just seven seconds. Indeed the Welsh were scoring a point a minute for the opening 15 minutes, but captain Akuila Tabualevu was a bright spark for the islanders in the centre, making a good break for their first try, until injury forced him off. At times Fiji threw the ball around like their Sevens team, but Wales were too strong and capitalised on poor discipline, which saw two Fijians yellow carded and two penalty tries awarded by Japanese referee Akihisa Aso.
Wales captain, Steffan Hughes, said: “There are a couple of things we need to work on but very pleased with the result and to get four tries as well. Fiji are very physical, they are big strong guys and it was important for us to match them physically and we feel like we did that so very pleased.”
Pool B: France 19-13 Ireland
As expected, the closest match of the opening round was the all-European affair between Six Nations Grand Slam winners France and Ireland at QBE Stadium. Only 10 points separated the teams when they met earlier in the year and the two sides traded penalties early on as France’s scrum half Baptiste Serin controlled matters with his kicking game, before centre Ivan Roux scored the opening try on the half hour mark. Ireland’s response was swift with Ciaran Kelleher dotting down. Fly half Brandon Fajardo kicked a drop goal in each half to keep France ahead and, with their defence holding firm, all Ireland could muster in the second half was a penalty from replacement Conor McKeon.
“France were worthy winners in the end, we had opportunities particularly towards the end but we just did not nail them at crucial times and gave France the out,” admitted coach Mike Ruddock. “You could not fault the effort of our boys, they really stuck in there.”
Pool C: South Africa 61-5 Scotland
South Africa did not have things all their own way in the first half against Scotland in the day’s opening match at QBE Stadium, conceding the first try to Jamie Farndale and only holding a slender 14-5 advantage over the Six Nations wooden spoon winners at half-time. However, in the second half they upped the intensity and scored with regularity, Scotland simply unable to live with them. With captain Handre Pollard pulling the strings from fly half, the tries came from across the side with backs Jesse Kriel and Lloyd Greef both touching down twice.
“It was a frustrating start to the game and it took us time to get into rhythm with the game. We are a young side, five guys straight out of school, so it is a learning exercise for them,” admitted coach Dawie Theron, whose men next face hosts New Zealand.
Pool C: New Zealand 48-12 Samoa
Tournament hosts New Zealand will be keen to step it up a level after being made to work hard for their opening 48-12 victory by an enthusiastic Samoan side. Jackson Garden-Bachop scored two of New Zealand’s seven tries, but they were never able to shake off the Samoans, who kept coming back at them with number 8 Richard Mariota and captain Henry Stowers impressing in the back row.
“We lacked structure in the second half – they did well at slowing down our ball and our structure was affected,” admitted New Zealand coach Chris Boyd. “Our set piece ball was not up to the mark and something I would think South Africa would be having a good look at. We have some concerns and clearly need to lift our effort – we think it is mostly timing issues which we need to work on.”