US buoyed by victory over favourites
With the dust having settled on day one of the IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy, the United States camp is particularly satisfied with how the tournament has started. Beating the pre-event favourite Tonga will give the Eagles a huge confidence boost as they prepare for the next game, another tough encounter, this time against the South American qualifier, Chile.
US captain Will Magie said: “As soon as we got off the bus we knew we had three things – attitude, hustle, aggression – and you saw those all the time during the game. We never let up. We were happy with 6-6 at half time because the wind was strong and it was going to be at our backs in the second half. We gave up a second-half try but then we just worked and worked and worked and we overpowered them. They are a bigger team and we overpowered them. That was very satisfying.”
Undoubtedly the crucial moment came with 15 minutes to go when Tonga were leading 11-9. In a flash, the Pacific Islanders found themselves down to 13 men with one man in the sin-bin and another shown a red card for their role in a fracas that broke out between the teams.
Head coach Scott Lawrence acknowledged that it had a big impact on the game. “Any time there is a team that has two less guys on the field, there's more space and more places to run. And we were going forward when they went off, so it really went to our advantage,” he said.
Chile's scrum set the platform for their victory
Meanwhile, USA’s opponent on Friday, Chile, completed an impressive bonus-point win over Russia, showing some of the form that gave them a rare victory over Argentina Under 20s recently. With a powerful pack, Chile now feel they can take on all comers with Vicente Jolly, second-row and captain, at the heart of that engine room.
“We have a very, very good scrum and everything comes from that. It is a great platform for us. We had good preparation. We had the confidence. This was our first match but we are now thinking big things. We must first (work on) our defensive areas. That is our objective now.”
An aggressive Georgia team will also feel the world is their oyster after a hard-won win over Canada. Coach Ian Smith said he expected his boys to improve through the tournament: "In terms of our preparation, we trained well. But in terms of actual games, we've been a let down a little bit. That was the first game we've played as a competitive national team. So that's why I think the first half was a bit strange in terms of a lot of possession given away, poor kicking, poor options."
"In the second half we went back to a bit more of what we do in training, which was far more effective. It is by no means the finished product, but it was better than the first half. We hadn't been tested. You can train as much as you like, but there's nothing like playing."
Last five minutes is a mental game for Japan
The most exciting game of the day was probably Japan’s late win over a tenacious Zimbabwe. A try in the final seconds was enough to secure the win 36-33. Afterwards, the Japanese were relieved to have made it through with a victory.
Head coach Ryuji Nakatake said: “It was the first match of this tournament. The players have been nervous and feeling big pressure over the tournament. We have to keep improving our defence but it is great to get a win on the first day. It will give us confidence for the next game and hopefully they will not be so nervous next time.”
“This is a good experience for them. We believe the last five or ten minutes is a mental contest. They were so tired but I watched their eyes. They looked forward and they were positive. The last two or three minutes is a very important time, so they had a good attitude."
And what was going through the players’ minds when they went behind with just a couple of minutes left on the clock?
Captain Jumpei Ogura said: "There was no time. All of us were thinking that we have to try to score. We told the boys to attack them and then get the try. Attack, attack, attack. But also we had to stay calm and not panic. Our opponent, Zimbabwe, is a very strong team. We tried to keep the pace but Zimbabwe tried so hard all the way to the end. To beat them is great for us. It has instilled confidence in everyone.”
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