England will defend their title against New Zealand in the final of the World Rugby U20 Championship having overcome South Africa 28-20 in an incredibly physical contest at the Stadio San Michele, Calvisano.
Forward dominance and a relentless work rate earned England an 18-6 half time lead with Bath Rugby fly-half Rory Jennings scoring six from the boot, as part of an impressive individual performance, before Harlequins back rower James Chisholm touched down and a penalty try was awarded prior to the break.
England extended their lead when George Perkins set up Saracens teammate Nick Tompkins but South Africa mounted a late comeback, scoring two tries in the final ten minutes.
Head coach Jon Callard said: “I am so proud of the boys and how they played, particularly up front. The South Africans are very big and physical and we more than matched them – not just for size and heart, but for speed of thought and game management.
“The way we disrupted the line out and scrum was also very impressive. I would consider this evening a proper game of test football!
“The players deserve credit for the way they responded after the France game. Everyone knuckled down and realised that if we stick to the processes and do the basics well, we will be a successful side and today we showed that.
“We now have the opportunity to continue the journey of developing as individuals and a team as we look forward to next Saturday.”
It was the battle of the boot for the first 20 minutes and a lively start by England earned the first penalty, successfully taken by Jennings. A long-range effort by fly-half Brandon Thomson allowed South Africa to equalise before Jennings added his second.
South African captain Hanro Liebenberg then saw yellow for a high tackle on Bath's Max Clark and England were unfortunate not to extend their lead when Saacens full-back Aaron Morris hit the post with his attempt from outside the half.
Thomson then sent one wide before slotting his second of the game as both sides attempted to exert some dominance in attack. Hard running, led by Ellis Genge and Lewis Ludlam, provided momentum as England began to build the phases.
A chip through from Tompkins and a determined chase by Howard Packman and Morris forced South Africa to kill the ball over their line and, from the back of the resulting scrum and dominant drive, Chisolm controlled the ball to perfection before diving over.
Now in their stride, exciting heads-up rugby by Jennings and Tompkins earned England a penalty scrum in front of the posts and Clark and Jack Walker came close to scoring.
England were strong in the numerous set piece penalties that followed and continued to bulldoze the line, denied only by a huge South African defensive effort.
Eventually the ball went wide and it seemed that Jennings had finally scored the long awaited second try, neatly stepping through the green wall, but the TMO decided he was held up.
With South Africa unable to handle the pressure in the scrum, just in front of the posts, a penalty try was awarded and England’s forwards were given the points they deserved for their relentless labours. Jennings converted to give England an 18-6 half time lead.
South Africa came out stronger after the break but it was England who were the first to add further points with Jennings claiming another three. A period of play in the centre of the field followed with crunching tackles denying South African attempts to build a real platform for attack.
Strong carries by Chisholm were a crucial part of England’s progressive play and the squad's intensity of work rate continued until the ball went wide from another strong scrum.
Perkins showed his pace as he burst down field before setting up Tompkins who carried over three South African defenders in his determined drive for the line.
With a late burst South Africa added tries through Malcolm Jaer and Daniel Du Plessis in the final ten minutes, but England’s lead and place in the final was already established.
Points: Jennings 3P & 2C, Chisholm 1T, Pen Try, Tompkins 1T
England v South Africa:
15. Aaron Morris (Saracens)
14. George Perkins (Saracens)
13. Nick Tompkins (Saracens)
12. Max Clark (Bath Rugby)
11. Howard Packman (Northampton Saints)
10. Rory Jennings (Bath Rugby)
9. James Mitchell (Sale Sharks)
1. Ellis Genge (Bristol Rugby)
2. Jack Walker (Yorkshire Carnegie)
3. Paul Hill (Yorkshire Carnegie)
4. Will Witty (Newcastle Falcons)
5. Charlie Ewels (Bath Rugby, Captain)
6. Lewis Ludlam (Northampton)
7. Will Owen (Leicester Tigers)
8. James Chisholm (Harlequins)
16. Jack Innard (Exeter Chiefs) on for Jack Walker (70 mins)
17. Sebastian Adeniran-Olule (Harlequins) on for Ellis Genge (60 mins)
18. Ciaran Parker (Sale Sharks) on for Paul Hill (70 mins)
19. Kieran Treadwell (Harlequins) on for Will Witty (60 mins)
20. Sam Skinner (Exeter Chiefs) on for James Chisholm (75 mins)
21. Will Homer (Bath Rugby) on for James Mitchell (57 mins)
22. Lloyd Evans (Gloucester) on for Rory Jennings (70 mins)
23. Piers O’Conor (Wasps) on for George Perkins (75 mins)
England's Schedule (Live on BT Sport):
June 2, England 59 – 7 Japan, KO 5.30pm BST, Stadio San Michele Calvisano
June 6, England 30 – 16 Wales, KO 7.30pm BST, Stadio San Michele Calvisano
June 10, England 18 – 30 France, KO 3.30pm BST, Stadio Luigi Zaffanella Viadana
June 15, England 28- 20 South Africa, KO 7.30pm BST, Stadio San Michele Calvisano
June 20, England v New Zealand, KO 7.30pm BST, Cremona Stadium