Solomon, the spark in the high and wet peloton, dominates

New Zealand U20 and South Africa U20 played the opening match of the Rugby Championship U20 after torrential rain, as wet conditions dictated the type of game that would take place.

Puddles flooded the field after a pre-match downpour and the blustery wind made kicking and handling difficult for both teams.

Despite enjoying a dominant first half, New Zealand U20 only took a 3-0 lead into half-time, which proved to be too little as South Africa U20 managed to come back.

The two teams finished with a 13-13 tie. Here are the takeaways from the first clash of the Rugby Championship U20.

High timber is an advantage for New Zealand

New Zealand provided their starting defense with height, which was a notable difference compared to their South African counterparts. Andrew Smith (Chiefs), Johnny Lee (Crusaders) and Malachai Wrampling (Chiefs) gave them five lineout options that proved influential.

Locks Liam Jack and Tom Allen wreaked havoc on the breakdown, earning multiple turnovers as South Africa struggled to retain the ball once the runners were isolated. New Zealand had a 6-2 advantage in turnovers after 30 minutes.

New Zealand’s set piece worked well considering the conditions. In the second half, the extra jumpers had a complete read of the South African lineout resulting in multiple steals. New Zealand won a scrum penalty in the first scrum, but it was a fairly close contest after that.

South Africa’s injection of fresh legs helped turn the tide in the second half and they were able to exert the control they lacked during the first 55 minutes.

But the New Zealand group looked good for the most part and hopefully that bodes well for the World Championships with a tall team.

Kicking a mixed bag in tough conditions

Kicking for both sides proved difficult, but New Zealand’s kicking game through halfback Ben Donovan, number 10 Cooper Grant and fullback Isaac Hutchinson proved vital in the first half.

On numerous occasions, they touched big yards and put South Africa in trouble. They were trapped in their own half for most of the first 40 minutes.

However, New Zealand squandered many of those chances to score points in the first half, with seven tackles in South Africa’s 22 for just three points proving vital in the final washout.

In the second half, Hutchinson came up with a big play intercepting a dangerous looking kick before kicking deep and pinning South Africa at their five, winning a scrum. From there, New Zealand scored with a wide shot to Stanley Solomon giving New Zealand an 8-0 lead.

It looked like New Zealand would take the game from there, but lapses in execution allowed South Africa to get back into the game.

New Zealand’s kickers left five points there, including a very enforceable penalty at the edge of the first half.

Stanley Solomon the spark of New Zealand

The left winger didn’t play much in the first half, but had two big line breaks in the second half and a finish at the end of a strike play.

His second line break essentially saved the game for New Zealand. They had fallen behind 13-8 and had less than six minutes left to do something.

Enter Solomon, who used his pace down the left to beat the last man on the line, got inside the fullback and found an offload for Johnny Lee that almost resulted in a try. In the next phase, with an advantage, right back Frank Vaenuku tried to tie the game with a cross kick.

Although they couldn’t take advantage of that opportunity, from the lineout maul they went wide again after a few phases and Vaenuku made peace with the leveler. The conversion went wide and the game was tied at 13 with one minute remaining.

New Zealand was the best team but lacked game instinct

New Zealand U20 were in control for most of the game but ended up in a position where they really should have lost the game.

A missed penalty 10 minutes from time by South Africa failed to ice the game and they were able to save the tie.

Just three points in a dominant first half proved costly.

With a penalty in front of the posts, they opted for a scrum about four minutes before the break, and then hit the base, squandering a potential 6-0 lead. They ended up having a second chance just as the bell rang, from further back and the shot went wide.

They were able to score first in the second half with a perfect play and wide pass from Rico Simpson to Stanley Solomon for an 8-0 lead, but almost immediately conceded a penalty and then an attempt to concede the lead.

In wet weather, some of the decisions indicated the team was experimenting rather than playing to win.