The two semi final matches played on Thursday evening in Rosario, Argentina showcased the top four sides in the competition. Of these, three hail from the traditionally strong rugby playing southern hemisphere. In the first semi final Australia faced the might of the lone northern hemisphere representative, England, while the second saw the young All Blacks from New Zealand take on the Junior Springboks from South Africa.
Coming into the first semi final the sides had been through very contrasting final pool matches with Australia having beaten the Baby Boks from South Africa 42-35 in a thrilling and attractive game of running rugby producing a point-a-minute high-scoring try fest, while England had ground out a 17-9 victory over France with a huge defensive effort.
For all money it looked like the two sides had built their game plans around the style of rugby played by their senior sides. Exciting attacking rugby employed by the young Wallabies with England favouring the brand of rugby played by most northern hemisphere teams in being particularly strong at the set pieces and in defence before turning their attention to offence.
Australia started the first half with every intention of using their flair in attack and looked good in patches, but as with most matches of this magnitude nerves play a vital role and Australia seemed to develop a good dose of just that with spilled passed, knocks on and turnovers. They looked like a different team to the one that thrilled against South Africa. It should also be noted that the strength and structure of the English defence contributed in large part to this high error rate.
Australia were first on the scoreboard with a well-taken penalty in the fifth minute by flyhalf Matt Toomua, but England struck back four minutes later to take the lead via a try from left winger Sam Smith who crossed in the corner after a good backline move making use of an effective skip pass to outmaneuver the Australian defenders. The difficult conversion attempt by fullback Tom Homer sailed wide of the mark.
Australia responded quickly by scoring their first try through left winger Aidan Toua in the sixteenth minute by moving the ball wide. Toomua converted to take the score to 10-5 in favour of Australia.
Australia were penalised for contesting illegally for the ball on the ground and Homer duly obliged with the successful attempt to edge England closer 10-8.
Through a very patient build-up and strong, straight running by fullback Luke Morahan Australia scored their second try. Toomua added the conversion to take Australia into a lead of 17-8. A successful penalty kick by Toomua just before halftime took Australia further ahead. Halftime score 20-8.
The second half saw the Australian side opting for an all-out attack but the English youths defended like their lives depended on it. An eight-phase passage of play by Australia had England on the ropes, but their heroic effort on defence forced a handling error from Australia and England relieved the pressure by kicking downfield.
A rare foray by England into the Australian twenty-two meter area saw a desperate swat to push the ball over the dead-ball line by the last line of Australia’s defence penalised. Homer slotted the penalty to narrow the gap to nine points.
Australia continued to attack via their impressive backline and none more so than their very impressive outside center Sitauti, but the handling error count continued to mount. England were penalised for illegal tactics on the ground and Toomua took Australia’s lead back to twelve points.
With less than ten minutes remaining Australia made good use of a strong scrum to get their dangerous backline away and Sitauti made no mistake this time as he crossed for their third try of the match. The conversion attempt missed the mark, but Australia’s lead was now secure at 28-11.
Time was running out but England continued to press and excellent rucking saw possession overturned and quick passing allowed replacement Jonny May to score a consolation try. Homer’s conversion attempt was wide.
The final score of 28-16 was a good reflection of Australia’s composure and superiority in attack.