Round three of the 2023 World Rugby U20 Championship went down to the wire as several teams jostled for a position to keep their semi-final hopes alive.
In the end, it would take until the 76th minute of the final match for South Africa to rubber-stamp their place in the last four.
The Junior Boks 24 – 16 victory over Argentina booked the host nation a semi-final spot against a red-hot Ireland team on Sunday.
Their victory also brought an end to Georgia’s remarkable march towards a first-ever semi-final appearance as the South Africans won the tiebreak on account of their round one victory over the Georgians.
Despite the disappointment of missing out on the final four, Georgia have set up a clash with Six Nations side Wales to decide who will face either Australia or New Zealand in a play-off match for fifth place.
Having taken significant steps forward this campaign, the Georgians will be immensely proud of their two wins from three outings in the pool rounds. A victory over Wales will only make the calls for Six Nations inclusion even louder.
As touched upon, South Africa will now face an Ireland team who edged out England by a single point to top Pool B.
The Irish have endured a torrid tournament off the pitch with the passing of Greig Oliver, father to scrumhalf Jack on Monday.
Mr Oliver, who himself was a former professional player for Scotland, was in South Africa to support Jack and the Irish U20s. During a day out for several of the parents, Mr Oliver would be involved in a mid-air paragliding accident.
His passing would shake Irish Rugby to the core came in the wake of from the passing of two young Irish men, Andrew O’Donnell and Max Wall, who passed away a day prior. The two men were well known to many players in the Irish squad and tragically passed away in Greece whilst on a holiday to celebrate the end of their school exams.
In a beautiful gesture of Rugby sportsmanship, Fiji would present Ireland with a jersey as a mark of respect to the passing of Mr Oliver, who at the time worked for Munster Rugby.
— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) July 4, 2023
Ireland would go on to defeat Fiji 47 – 27 in what was a far tighter affair than the scoreline would suggest.
The meeting between the two sides on Sunday will be followed by semi-final two, which will see Six Nations rivals England and France square off.
Having rampaged through their Pool, France look to be the class of the tournament but will face a stern challenge from England.
Despite letting two leads slip against both Ireland and Australia, England managed to close out their Pool B campaign with two draws and one bonus point win to secure the best runner-up spot.
Filled with players who have already featured at the senior professional level, England will know they have a formidable challenge in front of them.
Should the action play out according to the form book so far in the tournament, a final meeting between Ireland and France will be on the cards.
Ireland have defeated the French in their past two meetings to secure Six Nations Grand Slam titles, but this French squad look to be a step up in quality.
Having thumped New Zealand, Wales and Japan in their pool fixtures, Les Bleus rarely looked like they had to get out of second gear.
This could count against them come playoff time, but as it stands, it would appear they are bubbling with confidence, making them exceptionally dangerous.
All Of The Results From Round Three
Italy 17 – Georgia 30
Ireland 47 – Fiji 27
Australia 22 – England 22
New Zealand 62 – Japan 19
France 43 – Wales 19
South Africa 24 – Argentina 16
Play-Off Round Fixtures Confirmed
All of the next round of fixtures will take place on Sunday, June 9th, starting with Italy and Fiji squaring off at 1am local time in Paarl.
Next up will be Argentina, who will tackle Japan at 1.30pm also in Paarl, whilst New Zealand and Australia will square off at 2pm at the Athlone Stadium in Cape Town.
The final non-semi-final fixture will see Wales and Georgia meet at 4pm local time in Paarl.
Finally, Ireland and South Africa will meet at 4.30pm in semi-final one before France and England square off at 7pm.
All kick-off times are South African local time.