Wales will contest South Africa for the Under-20 Six Nations Summer Series title after a thrilling 23-20 win over hosts Italy sealed their spot at the top of Pool B, writes Ben Hart.
Arguably these two saved the best game of the group stage until last, and though it was a low-scoring affair, it had all the ingredients of a classic, with a late penalty from Wales captain Joe Hawkins sending his team through to the tournament showpiece.
Italy are more than worthy runners-up in Pool B, and their scores on the night came from Dewi Passarella, Lorenzo Pani and Federico Cuminetti, while Nathan Evans and Christ Tshiunza registered for table-topping Wales.
Key player – Christ Tshiunza
Second-row Tshiunza endured a tough afternoon against Georgia but was back to his usual self here.
He refused to let Wales kick to the corner when that seemed like a sensible option after the award of a close-range penalty at a crucial moment in the first half. He instead insisted that he lead the charge from a tap penalty.
He was foiled first in the first instance but powered over the second time round and that score gave Wales a 20-15 half-time lead.
The Exeter Chiefs lock then crunched into Giovanni Sante after the break with a tackle which had the Welsh fans on their feet at a point when every hit and break felt as game-changing and momentum-shifting as points.
Big games demand big performances, and this certainly was one of those from the two-cap senior international.
Play of the game – Pani breaks through
Though he'll be devastated with the result, Italy coach Massimo Brunello could not have constructed Italy’s second try better if he tried.
The Azzurrini were clearly trying to send a message to their opponents early on, opting for a scrum on Wales’ five-metre line instead of kicking to touch.
They could not get the power to push them over line there, but fears the opportunity would go to waste were soon extinguished.
The ball went through the hands before finding its way to Francois Carlo Mey who fizzed the ball into the path of the on-rushing Pani.
Such was the precision of the pass that Pani did not have to break stride and pierced the hole between Cameron Winnett and Harri Houston to score next to the sticks.
Key talking point – What a final we have in store
All attention now turns to the final, which will be contested by the two best teams in the tournament – the only two to have won all three of their pool fixtures.
While South Africa will certainly bring physicality upfront, Wales will look to beat them out wide with the pace they boast on the flanks in the form of Harri Houston and Oli Andrew.
Wales are arguably the most improved team since the Six Nations Under-20s and deserve their shot at the Pool A winners. They will be well-backed in Treviso too and will relish their underdog status going into that tie next Tuesday.
Key moment – Hawkins on the money
What a moment and what a strike from the Wales skipper. He was tasked with goal-kicking for the first time in the series here, but it seemed as though he had been entrusted with that responsibility all along, such was the ease with which he struck the ball.
He saved the best for last with an incredible match-winning effort. With the scores tied and Italy set to go through on points difference, Hawkins assumed responsibility from near halfway and smashed his effort through the uprights to spark delirium amongst the travelling support.
The group stages of the Under-20 Six Nations Summer Series have been full of individual moments of brilliance and this kick will rank up there among the best of them.
The Six Nations Under-20 Summer Series takes place from 24 June – 12 July. Fans can watch every match live. For more information visit: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCJHm6BFw-9JRA1CMekNLwMg