It was South Africa and England who emerged as the big winners from the second day of matches at the Junior Rugby World Championships. Each claimed important wins over New Zealand and Australia respectively, making both odds-on favourites to progress to the semifinals.
South Africa's 33-24 victory came off the back of a dominant second half, in which their huge forward pack overpowered the New Zealand pack to maintain momentum. Through this, they were able to control field position and forced New Zealand to play the majority of the half under immense pressure that they were unable to relieve for an extended period of time.
This, combined with New Zealand's awful line-out display all but secured the win for the Baby Boks, as they wore the New Zealanders down.
South Africa used the boot regularly to gain territory, a tactic that worked extra well given they could be confident of retaining the ball at the line-out. This deprived New Zealand of possession, forcing them to tackle for long periods deep in their own half.
Eventually this pressure told and the defence was drawn in close, creating the space out wide that allowed South Africa to cash in.
New Zealand were not all bad, though, showing some good flair in the backs. Tevita Li in particular impressed on the wing, touching down for three tries. Unfortunately they could not get enough good ball to work with and were often resigned to having to clear for touch or trying to mount an attack from deep inside their own half.
The win all but secures South Africa a semi-final berth, requiring just one competition point in their final pool match against a Samoan team they should comfortably beat.
For New Zealand it becomes a much tougher task, as the hosts will have to rely on beating Scotland by a large margin and hoping other results go their way to claim the wild-card spot.
England won the other big clash of the day, downing a useful Australian team 38-24 in an open, free-flowing game. Both teams looked to use the ball and played some great running rugby in a game that was played at a fast pace.
Consequently some of the defence was not great, but this is to be expected when teams are looking for quick ball, as it gives the defence less time to get organised and holes become easier to find.
The most dangerous player on the park was England's flying winger Nathan Earle, a player of tremendous potential. His two tries were impressive, as were the many runs he made throughout the game, a couple of which put his team in position to eventually score.
There are few players who could claim to carry the express pace Earle has, while his step and strength made him a handful for defenders.
His opposite, Andrew Kellaway, had another impressive game for the Australians too. The winger also touched down for two tries and did well to look dangerous behind a forward pack that was struggling at times.
Up front it was England who dominated proceedings, pushing the Australians around to provide their backs with a good platform to work off. Defensively they applied pressure around the fringes, preventing the Australians from clearing on multiple occasions and making it hard for them to gain any ascendancy in close.
At set-piece time they eventually gained dominance too, showing a tidy line-out and a scrum that wore down an Australian pack that succumbed after initially standing up well.
The best in this department was Maro Itoje, a big lock with long arms who pressured the halfbacks well, won his line-out ball and always went forward in contact.
Ireland claimed the other significant result of the day, withstanding a Welsh onslaught to emerge 35-21 victors, taking them to six competition points. This could prove crucial yet, as they are now front-runners to claim the wild-card spot, being a point up on New Zealand and Australia with a match against Fiji remaining.
If they are able to win this with a bonus point, the other two will be unable to catch them.
Of course, there is still the chance that they go through as Pool B winners; however, that will rely on France losing to Wales. While this is not out of the question, the French will enter their final match as favourites, having won a tight affair with Ireland on Day 1 and dispatching Fiji on Day 2.
They are a team with strong running forwards who can gain good go-forward and are tough to contain. Their back line boasts a couple of live-wires who can break a game open in typical French style as well.
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