England and South Africa have booked their places in the Junior Rugby World Championships final of 2014, winning what were two contrasting semi-finals.
The early game saw England dispatch an Ireland team—who looked out of their depth—by 42-15, while South Africa needed a last gasp try to snatch a seven-point victory from a hungry New Zealand team.
It was a completely dominant first half that saw England put away an Ireland team that just could not get their game going. England's powerful forward pack was aggressive and constantly provided their team with front-foot ball. The Irish defence, which has proven resilient throughout the tournament, simply could not handle this and crossing the line was all too easy for the English.
Their set-piece play was powerful, operating efficiently at line-out time and dominating the scrum contest with a good hit and strong first shove to get the Irish on the back foot.
All of this combined to see that Ireland simply could not get their hands on the ball and found themselves tackling under pressure for the majority of the first 40 minutes. In this time, England ran in five tries, which all came as a direct result from the pressure being built. The Irish defence was subsequently not able to organize itself and England took their chances, running at gaps or mismatches in the defensive line.
With a 34-3 scoreline at half time, the game was effectively over and this showed when the two teams came out for the second half. The second 40 was a messy affair, as the English lacked much of the aggression and commitment up front that saw them so dominant in the first half.
Consequently, Ireland were able to run in two tries while England were only able to add a further eight points to their total. This is not uncommon in a situation such as this, as it can be hard to come out fizzing after such a dominant half of rugby. England looked very keen early on really got stuck in. The passion and adrenaline used to spur on a performance like this usually has a limit and so it proved.
The second semifinal was a far closer contest, as New Zealand took on South Africa in a rematch of their showdown in the pool stages of the competition. South Africa won the first one relatively comfortably, but it was a far closer encounter this time around, with a much improved New Zealand team who played above themselves.
New Zealand looked to move the ball, and used their dangerous backs to constantly make inroads into the South African defence. They did this well, threatening frequently down the left side of the field, through winger Tevita Li, centre Anton Lienert-Brown and fullback Damian McKenzie. It was not just their backs though, as the forwards showed their ability to run in the open and played with a pace that their opponents struggled with.
The South African defence was exposed and fell off a multitude of tackles, but they scrambled well. On attack they offered little early and looked to test out the New Zealand back three under the high ball. It was a negative game plan, and other than a lucky intercept try, they never really looked like scoring in the first half.
They began to pick their game up in the final 30 minutes, though, beginning to hold on to the ball more and using their forward runners to draw in the New Zealand defence. That said, it was a second lucky try that allowed them to take the lead before New Zealand hit back with another of their own, still playing a very expansive game.
With the game tied and time almost up, New Zealand were caught trying to play too much rugby in their own half and ended up under pressure deep in their own half. More pressure from the South Africans prevented them getting a good clearance away and it was a traditional South African maul that proved to be the winner for them.
The two winners will now look ahead to the final, which will take place at Eden Park on Friday. England will enter the match as favourites after such a commanding display in their semi-final, but never write off South Africa. They have been the two best teams at the tournament and both deserve to play off for the championship.