From the moment the IRB Junior World Championship 2014 schedule was announced there was one match in particular which jumped off the page, the Pool C battle between four-time champions and hosts New Zealand and 2012 winners South Africa at QBE Stadium on Friday.
The rivalry between the two nations is one of the biggest in world rugby and it is no different at Under 20 level with their last two meetings on the JWC stage having been epic battles, both won by the Junior Springboks.
South Africa had been swept aside 36-7 in the first meeting in the 2010 semi-finals, but they then came out on top 22-16 in the 2012 final played in a cacophony of noise before 35,000 fans at Newlands Stadium. Last year’s third place play-off was equally tight and an 11-try fest which South Africa won 41-34 in France.
Both teams won their opening matches on Monday, South Africa cutting loose in the second half to beat Scotland 61-5 and New Zealand were made to work hard by Samoa and only put the gloss on a 48-12 scoreline with three tries in the final minutes.
Handre Pollard, the South African captain, expects the key battle to be much closer than their day one encounters and knows his side will have to sharpen up on some aspects of their match if they are to make it three wins in a row against the Baby Blacks.
“We weren’t clinical at all the first half at the breakdown so we learned a lot from that and we are definitely going to rectify that during the week because we know the All Blacks will be a big threat at the breakdown,” admitted Pollard.
“We saw their match. Samoa was quite surprising, very good actually.
A game of patience
“I think if we can just keep our composure. The kicking game is going to be a big battle against New Zealand, they have got good counter-attack players so if we play smart I think it will be a great game of rugby.
“It will be a lot tighter, it will be more about kicking your penalties and getting points every time you are down in the opposition’s half. I think it will be a patience game and it could be won in the last 10 minutes.
“It will be great for our confidence as a group if we can win. It will make it so much easier going into the last game against Samoa and knowing we only have to get the win to go into the semi-finals and then from there on it is anyone’s game.”
New Zealand coach Chris Boyd admitted after the Samoan win that their “set piece ball was not up to the mark” and they had “some concerns and clearly need to lift our effort” but believes his charges can come out on top.
“I watched the South African game back in the hotel and was very impressed.
“They are big and physical and they will be a real challenge for this team. We can beat them but we will have to be good. They are pretty much a complete side – physical pack / good nine and 10, big centres and class on the outside.”
Boyd has brought Super Rugby players Tevita Li and captain Simon Hickey into the backline for the South African match and will look for another strong performance from number 8 Matt Peni who carried well in the Samoan match.
Another traditional rugby rivalry will see defending champions England face Australia at 17:35 local time at QBE Stadium, two sides who also picked up bonus point victories on day one in Pool A over Italy and Argentina respectively.
Australia completed dominated Argentina’s scrum on day one and it coach Rodolfo Ambrosio has replaced his entire front row for the match against Italy, last year’s Junior World Rugby Trophy winners, which kicks off proceedings at QBE Stadium.
Over at the ECOLight Stadium in Pukekohe, the Pool C match between Scotland and Samoa will kick-off proceedings, two nations who are familiar with one another having met twice at JWC 2013 in France and shared the honours.
Scotland coach Sean Lineen has rung the changes following the loss to South Africa, but knows the size of the challenge his side will face against a Samoan side buoyed by their performance against the host nation in round one.
“We’re up against a Samoan team who lost heavily to New Zealand but they work hard and they’re pretty physical,” said Lineen. “There are only three of their players who don’t play in New Zealand so we know we’re up against it but the guys are really looking forward to it.”
Six Nations Grand Slam winners France will be looking to make it two matches from two when they face Fiji although will do so without the rested flanker Yacouba Camara, while captain Francois Cros and impressive scrum half Baptiste Serin will both start from the bench.
The other Pool B encounter is an all-Celtic affair with 2013 runners-up Wales looking to build on a 48-19 win over Fiji and take a step nearer to another semi-final, while their opponents Ireland know they need to bounce back from a narrow 19-13 loss to France.
Wales have made three changes to their starting line-up for day two, one of them sees wing Joshua Adams come in for Dafydd Howells who scored what is potentially the fastest try in international rugby after just seven seconds against Fiji.
“I expect it to be a tight game,” admitted Wales coach Byron Hayward. “Our scrum won us the Six Nations game against the Irish in Athlone and we need to maintain the pressure in that area but we need to try and play some expansive rugby too.
“Ireland’s scrum has improved, causing problems against the French, and the weather is very good at the moment so the conditions are set be different from that Six Nations game. It was very pleasing to produce a disciplined performance against Fiji and come away with a bonus point, but if we beat Ireland by a point, it will be a job well done.”
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