England batter Junior Boks

England beat the Junior Boks 39-17 in their World Rugby U20 Championship semi-final in Manchester on Monday. MARIETTE ADAMS reports.

England had sailed into the playoffs as overall top seeds, while the Junior Boks scraped in as the best runners-up across the three pools. That was evident in this match. The young South Africans were reduced to bystanders as England put in a clinical performance to book their place in the final against Ireland.

The hosts dominated every facet of this game from start to finish, as they bullied the Junior Boks up front and outperformed them in the backs. For SA U20 it was an 80-minute disaster played in reverse gear. They were lethargic and passive in everything they tried, be it in defence or on attack.

The Junior Boks' frailties were bound to be exposed against one of the better teams. They weren’t at their best during the pool stage – especially in the first halves of matches – and their previous victories had been sparked by moments of individual brilliance rather than a collective team effort.

In this game, however, not one single Junior Bok stood out. England used the width of the field well and played at pace, while successfully slowing the ball down whenever the Junior Boks had possession.

They made a flying start with two tries in seven minutes by scrumhalf Max Green, who scored off turnover possession, and lock Huw Taylor, whose effort came after hooker Jack Singleton stormed down the right flank. Flyhalf Harry Malinder kicked one conversion for a 12-0 advantage.

Fullback Curwin Bosch pulled three back for the SA U20s, but the little momentum they had gained in the buildup to that penalty was lost when captain Jeremy Ward was yellow-carded for a dangerous mid-air tackle on fullback Max Malins. England exploited the gap in the Junior Boks backline from the resultant penalty, creating an opportunity for winger Sam Aspland-Robinson to get his name on the try-scorer's list.

Up to that point the Junior Boks had yet to make a turnover at the breakdown and it took a massive struggle from lock Ruben de Villiers to make the first one in the 26th minute, though it was in vain as the ball was lost in contact.

England continued to apply pressure on the Junior Boks’ stretched defence and scored two late first-half tries despite going down to 14 men themselves for foul play. Those tries by Johnny Williams and Malins pushed the hosts' lead out to 31-3 at the break.

At the start of the second half, Junior Boks coach Dawie Theron emptied his bench in a bid to change his team’s fortunes. And they did turn things around, but only for a short spell.

Wing Edwill van der Merwe cantered in against the run of play after fielding a cross-field kick inside the England 22. The Junior Boks' second try was more workmanlike as the forwards battled into England territory before Libbok and Bosch linked up for the fullback to go in under the sticks.

But that would be their last points. England regrouped and waved off any further attacks on their line, while South Africa also did themselves no favours with a string of handling errors.

England were less efficient on attack in the second half, forcing Malinder to kick a penalty goal in the 54th minute. There would be no further scoring until the 73rd minute when replacement back Max Wright finished off a team effort that originated 60m from their tryline.

England will now face Ireland in the first all-northern hemisphere final since 2013, after the Irish thumped Argentina 37-7 in the other semi. The Junior Boks will take on Argentina in the third place playoff.

Earlier in the day, New Zealand whacked Wales 71-12 in the fifth-place playoff semi-final, while Australia beat Scotland 35-19.

England U20 – Tries: Max Green, Huw Taylor, Sam Aspland-Robinson, Johnny Williams, Max Malins, Max Wright. Conversions: Harry Malinder (3). Penalty: Malinder.
Junior Springboks – Tries: Edwill van der Merwe, Curwin Bosch. Conversions: Bosch (2). Penalty: Bosch.

England U20 – 15 Max Malins, 14 Sam Aspland-Robinson, 13 Joe Marchant, 12 Johnny Williams, 11 Matt Gallagher, 10 Harry Mallinder (c), 9 Max Green, 8 Callum Chick, 7 Will Evans, 6 George Nott, 5 Huw Taylor, 4 Stan South, 3 Billy Walker, 2 Jack Singleton, 1 Lewis Boyce.
Subs: 16 Charlie Piper, 18 Will Stuart, 19 Andrew Kitchener, 20 Jack Willis, 21 Harry Randall, 22 Max Wright, 23 Ollie Thorley.

Junior Springboks – 15 Curwin Bosch, 14 Mosolwa Mafuma, 13 Jeremy Ward (c), 12 JT Jackson, 11 Edwill van der Merwe, 10 Manie Libbok, 9 Marco Jansen van Vuren, 8 Junior Pokomela, 7 Ernst van Rhyn, 6 Zain Davids, 5 Eli Snyman, 4 Ruben de Villiers, 3 Jaco Holtzhausen, 2 Tango Balekile, 1 Nicolaas Oosthuizen.
Subs: 16 Jan-Henning Campher, 17 Franco van den Berg, 18 Carlü Sadie, 19 Eduard Zandberg, 20 Cobus Wiese, 21 James Hall, 22 Franco Naude, 23 Keanu Vers.

Photo: Nigel Roddis/Getty Images

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Mariette Adams