Wales beat host nation Argentina 30-25, while the French came up with a 36-20 win over Fiji in the other game in the Welsh pool. You have to go back to 2013 for the only time Wales have reached the final, so could this be the year that Dewi Lake’s side goes one better?
DEFENCE IS IN WALES’ DNA
Following the example set by the senior side who built their Six Nations Grand Slam on a solid red brick wall, Wales produced a defensive masterclass in the face of fierce pressure from hosts Argentina in Rosario on Tuesday. Organisationally they were superb and other than the break which saw Ignacio Mendy score a contender for try of the tournament from 50 metres out, they nailed their tackles time and time again. Jac Morgan made more (18) than any other player on the park and was joined in the top four tackle count by team-mates Dewi Lake and Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler. No wonder defence coach Byron Hayward is being tipped as Shaun Edwards’ successor.
FIJI ARE UP FOR THE CHALLENGE
Any fears that Fiji might find life back on the U20 Championship stage after a five-year absence a little difficult looked to be well founded when they conceded a try after just 83 seconds against defending champions France. From that point on, though, they showed glimpses of the form that won them promotion from the World Rugby U20 Trophy and also gave New Zealand and Australia the hurry up at the Oceania Rugby U20 Championship. While they looked as potent as ever from an attacking viewpoint, what will have pleased head coach Kele Leawere most is the discipline of his side.
SCRUM-HALVES ARE GAME-CHANGERS
We always knew this, for sure, but the first day’s action underlined how important scrum-halves can be to their team in their hour of need – or half an hour in the case of New Zealand. Replacement scrum-half Taufu Funaki produced a performance every bit as big as his afro hairstyle when coming on for Leroy Carter against Georgia with the scoreline precariously balanced at 19-13 in favour of the six-time champions. Funaki stamped his class on the match from the off and it’s no coincidence that New Zealand scored four tries during his 30-minute cameo to pull away and win 45-13. He wasn’t the only scrum-half to shine on Tuesday. Jaden Hendrikse was a box of tricks for the Junior Springboks, scoring two and setting up another, while fellow try-scorer Harri Morgan was similarly impressive in the number nine jersey for Wales.
WHAT SECOND SEASON SYNDROME?
Bad news for opponents, last year’s Player of the Tournament Jordan Joseph looks bigger and better than ever before. As a callow 17-year-old the France number eight took the U20 Championship by storm but with a season of Top 14 rugby under his belt at Racing 92, Joseph could raise the bar even higher in 2019. An opening day hat-trick against Fiji was not a bad way to start. Considering France were up against Fiji, being able to execute more offloads (six) than any other player on the pitch is a pretty impressive stat, too.
MOMENTUM IS EVERYTHING
Confidence is oozing through the Ireland team right now as the U20 Six Nations Grand Slam winners attempt to augment their status as Europe’s number one side with a first-ever world crown. Three times Ireland found themselves behind on the scoreboard in their opening encounter against England but, brilliantly led by Charlie Ryan, they found a way back on each occasion. This is a team that does not know how to lose at present, and that resilience – remember injury has deprived them of some leading lights – could take them all the way.