The Road to the U21 World Cup Final
June 27, 2002

The road to the final of the First IRB U21 World Cup began on a sunny but cold Friday June 14th and will end tomorrow Friday 28th.

For both finalists, their previous international games had been in Sydney, at last year's U21 tournament. There, South Africa had finished at an historical low seventh, the seeding they brought into this inaugural IRB U21 World Cup. Australia was beaten in the final of that tournament and their vow was to make sure the U21 World Cup would give them the trophy to go alongside the Webb Ellis Trophy.

Once the teams gathered in Johannesburg, it all began on that Friday.

The aspiring Wallabies met Ireland at the Wits University and theirs was a solid 51-18 win. Winger Peter Hynes scored a hat-trick, captain Tamaiti Horua got a brace and hooker Huia Edmonds, flanker Matthew Hodgson and scrumhalf Matthew Henjak also scored. Flyhalf James Brock added four goals and one penalty.

Later that day, in a bone chilling night at the glorious Ellis Park, South Africa were too good for Romania: their 135-0 game was a positive start for them, with ten players sharing the twenty tries. Scorers were captain Clyde Rathbone (3), wingers Ashwin Willemse (3) and Jean de Villiers (2), backrowers Pedrie Wannenberg (2), Jacques Cronje (2) and Roland Bernard (3), fullback Jorrie Muller (1), scrumhalf Enrico Januarie (1) and replacements Quintin Geldenhuys and Juan Smith with a try apiece. Flyhalf Francois Swart showed how deadly his boot was going to be with sixteen goals and one penalty for a personal tally of 35 points.

Manager Naas Botha said: "We must not read too much into this game."

Second round saw Australia drawing Romania and France playing South Africa, both games played on Tuesday June 18th.

Romania was at the end of another huge loss, this time at least they managed to put points on the board. Razvan Stanca kicked a 79th minute penalty. It didn't make much of a difference as Australia scored 21 tries for a 135-3 win. Again, ten players crossed the Romanian line: Luke Sweeney took five, Tamaiti Horua grabbed four, Matthew Hodgson three, centre Mark Gerrard and hooker Huia Edmonds took two and there was one each for Mark Chisholm, Nicolas Henderson, Matthew Henjak, Michael Tabrett and Chris Siale. Four goals were kicked by Matt Giteau whilst James Brock goaled eleven.

"This show the enormous difference between Romanian rugby and that of the mayor nations," said a devastated Romania manager Petrica Motrescu.

After this game, a crammed Bill Jardine Stadium saw South Africa show a more mature game plan and better composure to beat a hard French team 28-9. Centre Jean de Villiers scored the only try of the game in the corner after a great run by fullback Jorrie Kruger, who had earlier kicked a stunning drop goal. Again, the boot of Francois Swart paved the way to victory - he took a sweet drop and added one goal and five penalties.

Three days later, June 21st, South Africa played Ireland. Although the Irish fought hard, the unerring boot of Swart was on target for a 42-22 win. Thanks to a solid platform provided by the forwards and with Ireland making too many mistakes inside their own half, Swart collected seven penalties, one drop goal and one goal (26 points) and Jean de Villiers and Ashwin Willemse scored the two tries. Irish scrumhalf Brian
O'Riordan crossed the home side's try-line for the first time in the tournament.

France lost a lot of its fighting power after suspensions to two players and another three getting internal bans following the South African game. Australia were always in control, scoring eight tries (Peter Hynes, Luke Sweeney, Jone Tawake, Matthew Hodgson, Daniel Heenan, Joshua Mann-Rea, Morgan Turunui and Adam Whalley), with James Brock adding six goals and four penalties. France managed two great tries through enterprising wing Vincent Clerc. As the Australians managed a bonus point in every game, they finished on top in their group, with South Africa advancing second to the other semifinal.

Wales was Australia's next opponent and again, the creating power of the backs (centres Mark Gerrard and Turunui Morgan) and the strength of the forwards (Horua and Tawake two names for the future) soon booked them a place in the final. They were 33-0 before Wales scored their only points. The final score was 43-7 and Gerrard, Morgan, Sweeney, Giteau and Tawake scoring tries. Three goals and four penalties completed the scoring.

As expected, the South Africa v New Zealand game was a game of passion and heart. And it was, so far, the game of the tournament. South Africa had a 13-6 lead going into the second half, after lock Juan Smith scored a try and Swart converted two penalties and a goal. It was soon stretched by three points, but New Zealand came back and after two tries by replacement flyhalf Shaun Webb they were in front 18-16 with ten minutes to go.

"I've seen him kick balls from all over the park," later said captain Clyde Rathbone after the game. So when Swart placed the ball for his last minute penalty opportunity, Rathbone must have been the only one amongst the anxious 8,000 spectators that knew what would happen.

Swart became the new hero of South African rugby when he slotted the angled penalty to win this historic semi-final 19-18.

So, on to the final. Ellis Park should host the biggest crowd of the tournament when, at 5.15pm on Friday June 28th, Clyde Rathbone (if he recovers from a leg injury) and Tamaiti Horua lead two of the best U21 teams in the world to what promises to be a breathtaking, pulsating, exciting final.

Before that, five other games will round off the U21 World Cup: Fiji v Romania (11th/12th position) Italy v Japan (9th/10th), Argentina v England (7th/8th), Ireland v France (5th/6th) and New Zealand v Wales (3rd/4th).

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