Junior Rugby World Cup: New Zealand Hold off Ireland to Advance to Semifinals

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Junior Rugby World Cup: New Zealand Hold off Ireland to Advance to Semifinals
Adam Pretty/Getty Images
Ardie Savea

New Zealand had to withstand a late flurry from a desperate Ireland team to walk away with a 31-26 win and clinch a spot in the semifinals of the Junior Rugby World Cup.

Two yellow cards affected the game immensely, as both teams struggled to hold the other out with only 14 men on the field, and was a key in gaining momentum.

It was this that saw the Baby Blacks shoot out to a 31-11 lead in the first 15 minutes of the second half. After going to the break with a 14-11 lead, the New Zealanders touched down three times early in the second half, two of these coming while Ireland centre Thomas Farrell spent time in the sin bin.

The period saw New Zealand exert total dominance over their opponent, gaining plenty of forward momentum and breaking through the defence at will. On the flip side, the Irish never really got a chance, unable to get their hands on the ball for any length of time and having little opportunity to use it when they did.

You would have been forgiven for thinking the game was all but over at this stage. Despite there being a quarter of the game to go, Ireland just did not look like they were coming back. The New Zealanders were in complete dominance of proceedings, and this dominance did not look like it'd be relinquished. 

Funnier things have happened in rugby games, though, especially in a do-or-die game for both teams. 

And so it happened. New Zealand seemed to go into a lull and for whatever reason did not have that same spark after being in such a commanding position. Ireland, on the other hand, seemed to realise the importance of their situation and rallied.

They dominated territory and possession for most of the last 20 minutes, forcing New Zealand to do plenty of tackling, and were able to manipulate the defence to cross for two tries of their own. In this time New Zealand lost prop Nick Grogan to the sin bin after a series of repeated infringements, which proved to be just as important in Ireland's dominant run as the earlier yellow card to Farrell.

The final seconds saw Ireland launch one last attack where they pressed into the New Zealand 22, but were unable to score the winning try, conceding a penalty to end their chances of an upset.

Ardie Savea was the best player for New Zealand, with a high work rate all day. He made numerous breaks and showed good ball skills to offload well and keep the defence under pressure. Defensively he was strong at the tackle and was instrumental in effecting multiple turnovers.

He has been a beast all tournament, although that should not be surprising as he has stood out at levels higher than this over the past 12 months. It is only a question of when, rather than if, he gets his chance with the All Blacks.

Others to impress in the forwards were locks Patrick Tuipulotu and Christopher Vui, both of whom were prominent ball-runners and put their team on the front foot. The front rowers looked good around the field, but struggled to hold their own against a powerful Irish scrum.

Lolagi Visinia was the best of the backs, running dangerously on numerous occasions from all over the park. He crossed for one try where he literally ran over the top of the defence and was instrumental in setting up the first one for his team. Michael Collins was strong in the midfield, making some incisive runs, while halfback Tayler Adams provided good service for his team.

The New Zealanders will now progress onto the semifinals where they will meet England on Wednesday. On the other side of the draw, South Africa will face Wales on the same day as they continue their bid to defend their title.

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