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New Zealand Under 20 snatch dramatic win over France

New Zealand Under 20 snatch dramatic win over France

All BlacksJuly 5, 2024

An inspired second half charged New Zealand to an epic 27-26 victory over defending champions France at the World Rugby Under 20 championships in Stellenbosch.

New Zealand was down 26-24 in the 78th minute when lock Liam Jack poached a Rico Simpson restart. New Zealand was piggybacked inside the French 22 by a penalty. 

New Zealand’s lineout drive was a source of profit throughout and cruelly expectational French blindside Joe Quere Karaba conceded a penalty, leaving Simpson a chance to win the match with a penalty kick five metres in from touch and 25 metres shy of the target.

Into a blustery wind, Simpson pushed the ball out to the right before it curved back and slithered over the posts by a nostril hair.  Euphorically Simpson raised his right arm to celebrate, but the kick was so close, the touch judge wasn’t sure. A television inspection confirmed the kick was successful. New Zealand had lost reserve prop Joshua Smith to a yellow card in the 76th minute. 

Down 11-0 at halftime, New Zealand appeared sluggish and irritated by a fiercely committed French pack. 

New Zealand was forced into sustained periods of defense and wilted early when fullback Xan Mousques slid over in the fourth minute.

Damage limitation was the game's name in the opening quarter and critical interventions by Johnny Lee, Xavier Tito-Harris, Logan Wallace and Dylan Pledger prevented further hurt on the scoreboard. 

New Zealand couldn’t prevent two Hugo Reus penalties, but the deficit remained manageable especially given blindside flanker Andrew Smith was yellow-carded.

The spark for New Zealand’s resurgence was winger Stanley Solomon. A chip, chase and regather from inside his own 22 advanced New Zealand past halfway. Smith carried on the momentum and then combative centre Aki Tuivailala knifed through in the 44th minute.

Suddenly New Zealand had momentum, which was temporally snuffed out in the 49th minute by a 70 metre Joe Quere Karaba intercept. 

There was no panic from New Zealand. Solomon scored a try in the 52nd minute after halfback Pledger weaved past lethargic tackles at the ruck. Pledger was one of New Zealand’s best with swift distribution and smart options. Pledger propelled New Zealand into the lead for the first time in the 62nd minute gratefully collecting a tighthead the New Zealand pack secured at the scrum. Opposite halfback Leo Carbonneau was yellow-carded in the 56th minute.

Reus chipped over a penalty to make it 21-19 to France in the 65th minute but the New Zealand pack was now rampant. Replacement hooker Manumaua Letiu scored a 20m rolling maul try in the 67th minute.

A six-pass length of the field break by France didn’t yield any points as the tussle for territory became the deciding factor.  Reus kicked France 26-24 ahead, but the discipline and brutality of the New Zealand pack was a massive step up from the limp efforts of 2023.

Openside Lee topped the tackle count for New Zealand with 13. Second five Xavi Taele carried ten times with venom. Only openside flanker Geoffrey Malaterre (16) made more tackles than dynamite Quere Karaba who finished with 14.

New Zealand only has to beat winless Spain in their last group match to guarantee a place in the semi-finals. France will require a bonus point victory against Wales and favours from other countries to have a chance of defending their title. 

New Zealand Under 20: 27 (Stanley Solomon, Aki Tuivailala, Dylan Pledger, Manumaua Letiu tries; Rico Simpson 2 con pen) France Under 20: 26 (Xan Mousques, Joe Quere Karaba, Mathis Ferte tries; Hugo Reus 3 pen, con)

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