By World Rugby
ZIMBABWE guaranteed their best-ever finish in the World Rugby U20 Trophy with a stunning victory against the USA following a pulsating encounter at the Nyayo National Stadium in Nairobi on Tuesday.
The Junior Sables’ first U20 Trophy victory since 2012 – and only their third in all – secured third place in Pool A and at least a sixth-place finish overall, although they will have the chance to improve that to fifth in Sunday’s play-off.
Zimbabwe will play hosts Kenya on Sunday, after the Chipu beat Hong Kong China 22-16 in the second match of the day. The USA will face Hong Kong China in the seventh-place play-off.
USA appeared the more likely winners when full-back Rand Santos ghosted through for a brilliant individual try 14 minutes from time but Zimbabwe’s off-loading, handling and pace produced two tries in the last 10 minutes from replacements, wing Brendan Marume and scrum-half Shadreck Mandaza.
Mandaza sealed a memorable victory by converting his own try which started tearful celebrations on the pitch and among Zimbabwe’s travelling supporters in the stands.
It was breathless end-to-end stuff throughout with Zimbabwe recovering from going 14 points down inside 16 minutes to establish a five-point lead early in the second half.
USA used their driving lineout and the accurate kicking of fly-half Oliver Cline to then open up an 11-point lead but they could not contain the exuberant Junior Sables when it mattered.
Zimbabwe’s early indiscipline proved costly as USA drove Hayden McKay and loose-head prop John Wilson over from attacking lineouts but a general warning from the referee for multiple team infringements appeared to focus the Junior Sables.
A penalty from fly-half Benoni Nhekairo got them on the scoreboard and the deficit was further reduced with a superb try from a sweeping attack on half-way which was started by Simbarashe Kanyangarara and finished by the scrum-half.
Nhekairo added a straightforward conversion followed by two penalties which nudged the Junior Sables into the lead for the first time.
Nhekairo struck again eight minutes into the second-half but, having played with great composure, things unravelled for Zimbabwe in the space of eight minutes with a series of errors that allowed USA to regain the lead.
McKay went over for his second try after a crooked lineout throw from Zimbabwe gave USA an attacking opportunity and Cline then kicked three penalties in five minutes.
Zimbabwe responded with Mandaza taking a quickly-tapped penalty and setting up Marume for the first of his two tries but that was swiftly cancelled out by Santos’ long-range effort that Cline improved.
But Zimbabwe finished strongly with centre Dion Khumalo unleashing Marume for his second try and Mandaza’s pace then slicing open the defence.