Host nation South Africa stand between the Ireland Under-20s (sponsored by PwC) and a place in Friday week’s World Rugby Under-20 Championship final in Cape Town.
Richie Murphy’s side progressed to the tournament’s knockout rounds after beating Fiji 47-27 to finish top of Pool B. France, the defending champions from 2019, and the Junior Springboks also topped their pools.
England’s 22-all draw with Australia was enough to see them advance as the best runners-up from the pool stages, meaning they will meet top seeds France in the last-four.
The opening fixture of next Sunday’s semi-finals, which take place at Cape Town’s Athlone Sports Stadium, will see Ireland and South Africa battle it out. Kick-off is at 4.30pm local time/3.30pm Irish time – live on Virgin Media Two/World Rugby platforms where there is no local broadcaster).
Following up on their second successive U-20 Six Nations Grand Slam, Murphy’s charges are now unbeaten in 10 matches stretching back a year to the U-20 Six Nations Summer Series in Italy.
Coincidentally, South Africa were the last team to beat them in a competitive fixture. The Junior ‘Boks won 33-24 when the sides met last June in Verona, a game in which current players Sam Prendergast, George Hadden, Conor O’Tighearnaigh, Diarmuid Mangan, James McNabney and Charlie Irvine all played.
It was an emotional day for the Ireland squad at Stellenbosch’s Danie Craven Stadium where the players wore black armbands and held a moment’s silence to mark the tragic deaths of Greig Oliver, father of their team-mate, scrum half Jack, and St. Michael’s College pupils Andrew O’Donnell and Max Wall.
Former Scotland scrum half Oliver, an Elite Player Development Officer with Munster Rugby, died in a paragliding accident in Cape Town on Monday, just hours after news had broke of the passing of both Wall and O’Donnell, who were known to many of the current Ireland U-20 side.
Ireland’s unbeaten run through the pool stages also saw them draw 34-all with England and beat Australia 30-10. They have scored try-scoring bonus points in each of their games so far, with Brian Gleeson and captain Gus McCarthy bagging three tries each.
Coached by Bafana Nhleko, South Africa began their campaign on home soil with a 33-23 victory over Georgia before being stunned by Italy in a 34-26 defeat. That result made for a dramatic conclusion to Pool C.
However, Georgia’s hopes of a historic semi-final spot were undone by the Junior ‘Boks’ strong finish against Argentina. Number 8 Cornè Beets’ two-try salvo in the closing stages saw the home team prevail 24-16, putting them through on the head-to-head rule.
Today doubled as ‘Keep Rugby Clean’ Day at the tournament with players from all 12 teams wearing distinctive T-shirts in support of World Rugby’s anti-doping programme.
WORLD RUGBY UNDER-20 CHAMPIONSHIP FIXTURES:
Sunday, July 9 –
IRELAND U-20s v SOUTH AFRICA U-20s, Athlone Sports Stadium, 4.30pm local time/3.30pm Irish time
FRANCE U-20s v ENGLAND U-20s, Athlone Sports Stadium, 7pm local time/6pm Irish time
Friday, July 14 –
3RD/4TH PLACE PLAY-OFF:
IRELAND U-20s/SOUTH AFRICA U-20s v FRANCE U-20s/ENGLAND U-20s, Athlone Sports Stadium, 4.30pm local time/3.30pm Irish time
IRELAND U-20s/SOUTH AFRICA U-20s v FRANCE U-20s/ENGLAND U-20s, Athlone Sports Stadium, 7pm local time/6pm Irish time