Samoa beat Spain in sudden death extra-time to win the World Rugby U20 Trophy and secure an immediate return to the World Rugby U20 Championship in 2017.
Samoa and Spain served up a classic final as the World Rugby U20 Trophy 2016 came to a thrilling climax in the gathering gloom of the Harare Sports Club in the Zimbabwe capital.
Even for a tournament where entertainment had been the order of the day throughout, few people would have predicted that the final would have been quite so dramatic.
Leading by eight points with nine minutes left to go, Spain threatened to cause an upset against the side relegated from the U20 Championship in 2015 until number eight Elia Elia struck with his hat-trick try to hand Samoa a lifeline which they gratefully accepted three minutes into extra-time when replacement Tivoli Masaga crossed in the corner.
Despite the disappointment, Spain can take huge credit for their performances in their first outing at this level but it is Samoa who can now look forward to playing against the elite nations again at the World Rugby U20 Championship 2017 in Georgia.
In the other matches on the final day, Fiji held off a Namibia fight-back to win their third place play-off 44-30, while USA beat Uruguay 32-30 with Ben Cima's last-minute penalty to finish third and Hong Kong picked up their first win, 44-40 against hosts Zimbabwe to finish seventh.
FINAL: SAMOA 38-32 SPAIN
First-time European qualifiers Spain showed no nerves despite the prize at stake and after bossing the early exchanges they deservedly took the lead when full-back Guillermo Dominguez rounded off a multi-phase attack with an arching run to the corner.
Samoa’s response was immediate, Elia bulldozing his way over from close range after a series of pick-and-goes had initially been repelled by determined Spanish defending.
Another smash-and-grab raid resulted in Salesi Rayasi crossing and D’Angelo Leuila was again on the money with the conversion to make the score 16-8.
Cheered on by choruses of Viva España, Spain hit back when Dominguez finished off a first phase move, which started with clean ball being won off the top of the lineout just inside the Samoan half. This time Rabagao was unable to add the extras.
A yellow card for openside flanker Uini Fetalaiga for taking the man out in the air saw Samoa play out the last seven minutes of the first half down to 14 men and the electric Dominguez threatened to complete his hat-trick when he went on another dangerous run down the right. However, this time the Samoan defence was up to the job in hand and the full-back was bundled into touch 10 metres out.
Samoa held out for a 16-14 half-time lead and that advantage was extended four minutes after the restart when Elia built up a head of steam and stepped the last defender to score from 20 metres out.
With scrum-half Jaime Mata expertly controlling play at close quarters, Spain managed to hit back again when replacement hooker Tommy Vaisset burrowed his way over and Rabagao tagged on the extra two points.
Spain continued to press forward and Jon Zabala’s try after 63 minutes was just reward for their efforts. Rabagao slotted the conversion from in front of the posts.
Leading 30-24, Spain opted to kick for goal when Samoa were pinged for being offside in centre field and Rabagao stroked the ball between the posts.
A brilliant break down the right from Laaloi Leiluai, which took him past three defenders and deep into the Spanish 22, set the platform for Samoa to get back on level terms. The ball was recycled and Elia forced his way over and dotted down by the posts to make the score-equalling conversion a formality.
Leuila had a chance to win it in normal time after an almighty shove from the Samoan pack forced a scrum penalty with the stadium clock showing 88 minutes, but his attempt from 40 metres sailed wide and the final went into sudden death extra-time.
Samoa’s forwards worked a drop goal position for Leuila but the defence was up quickly and instead of going for goal the fly-half sensibly kept the ball in hand and found replacement Masaga unmarked wide out on the left with a pinpoint pass. Masaga was left with the simplest of run-ins to spark scenes of jubilation among the Samoan players and fans in the crowd.
Spain, meanwhile, dropped to their knees in despair but they can be proud of their efforts –not only in the final but throughout the tournament as a whole.
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