Fiji produced a performance of skill and flair to nullify Italy’s heavy pack in the opening ninth-place semi-final at Paarl Gymnasium and confirm their place in next year’s U20 Championship.

Having struggled in set-piece play in their three matches in Pool B, Fiji took the opportunity to show what they could do with a reasonable supply of possession by running in five tries.

It was a contrast of styles as Italy used their dominant scrum as the platform to score their four tries but their lineout malfunctioned, they turned over too much possession in attack and also conceded penalties that allowed Fiji to relieve the pressure.

Italy were 15 points down 10 minutes into the second half but rallied to reduce the deficit to a point with two tries in three minutes.

But missed tackles proved costly which allowed Fiji’s influential fly-half Isaiah Ravula to send blindside flanker Sakenasa Nalasi over then for centre Paterisio Fiunau to slice through a static defence on a strike run from a lineout.

Ravula kicked 16 points off the tee but his astute tactical kicking also proved decisive in a frenetic contest on a heavy pitch.

Italy twice led in the first half with tight-head prop Marcos Francesco Gallorini having the distinction of scoring the 100th try of this year’s tournament when he drove over early on. Fiji responded through Mastercard Player of the Match, second-row Mesake Vocevoce, with Ravula adding the conversion followed by a well-struck penalty.

Italy regained the lead when Giovanni Quattrini, their captain and hooker, rumbled over from another lineout drive but Fiji were always dangerous with ball in hand. They reclaimed the lead on the half-hour with a cleverly-worked short-side move that gave full-back Isikeli Basiyalo an untroubled run to the line.

Ravula added a difficult conversion and then created Fiji’s next try with an accurate chip that was snaffled by wing Sireli Masiwini who stepped out of a tackle and dotted down.

A second-half penalty from Ravula stretched the lead before Italy brought on all their forward replacements and gained early rewards when second-row Jacopo Botturi and replacement hooker Nicholas Gasperini were shunted over.

But Fiji played the more composed rugby when it mattered with Ravula ensuring Italy’s forwards were denied further attacking opportunities.

Argentina will play Fiji in the ninth-place play-off on Friday, while Japan face Italy with the loser being relegated to next year’s U20 Trophy.

The win ensures that Fiji will be playing in the U20 Championship next year, but Italy now face another relegation battle on the final day to avoid relegation to the World Rugby U20 Trophy in 2024.