Wales U20 made it through to the play-off for 5th place in the World Rugby U20 Championship with a first win over New Zealand U20 since 2012, in horrendous conditions in Rosario.
Head coach Gareth Williams re-introduced a number of players rested against Fiji last time out, with Kemsley Mathias, Ben Warren, Max Llewellyn and Ryan Conbeer all starting, while Morgan Jones returned at lock, and Lennon Greggains recovered from the shoulder injury picked up in the first game against Argentina.
The game started in tense fashion as New Zealand dominated possession and territory but a mixture of some strong Welsh defence and handling errors caused by the weather conditions prevented them from converting that pressure into points.
In the end the weather would actually result in them conceding the first points of the game as possession was spilled on first phase ball to be hacked forward by Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler, and when flanker Boshier couldn’t recover the loose ball, the Ospreys centre was on hand to dribble the ball forward and flop on it for a try.
New Zealand attempted to get back into the game, working hard to dominate the set piece, but fly-half Burke was unsuccessful with his goal kick and shortly afterwards the teams were taken off the field due to the worsening weather overhead.
When the game restarted it followed a pattern that saw the Baby Blacks dominate possession and territory, fail to do anything with it against a solid Welsh defence and then either kick the ball away or spill the ball.
Unfortunately Wales were struggling noticeably with an issue that has been bubbling under the surface throughout the tournament, with a lack of big ball carriers failing to get us onto the front foot and seeing possession similarly lost or kicked away within a few phases.
It took until the 50th minute for the encounter to spark into life again, with controversy surrounding the decision to only yellow card replacement back rower Finau for connecting with the head of Ioan Davies at speed and with force in a tackle.
Wales couldn’t add to the scores during the 10 minutes with a man advantage, and when New Zealand were restored to the full compliment of players they went searching for a try.
Penalties conceded at the scrum and on the floor allowed Burke to kick the Baby Blacks into the corner, and although the initial rolling maul was stopped short, second row and vice captain Va’ai was on hand to power over from short range, with Burke converting to take the lead.
However, Wales weren’t prepared to wear the ‘so close, yet so far’ tag, keeping the work rate how to get a foothold back in the game through some good Cai Evans kicking.
One penalty won saw us move into the New Zealand half, and then a second secured at the resulting lineout was deemed kick-able enough for Evans. Sitting on a 0% success rate from three kicks so far, it was a big ask, but the Ospreys fly-half kicked it beautifully to see his side re-take the lead.
A nervous minute followed as New Zealand managed to win a kick-able penalty, but Burke couldn’t match Evans’ feat off the tee and, for the first time since 2012, Wales U20 were able to come away from an encounter with the Baby Blacks as winners.
The players and coaches were as visibly emotional as they were elated after a huge effort in Rosario, but they will now have to re-focus ahead of the 5th place play-off against England U20.