NEW ZEALAND WIN JUNIOR WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP
By Rupert Bates
This was one of the great games of rugby at any level. The fact that this final was played out by teenagers at the end of a ferocious tournament made the intensity and skill levels on display even more remarkable.
New Zealand won their fourth successive Junior World Championship – they’ve won them all – but they did not deserve to win this one. It was Lucky Blacks not Baby Blacks in Padova, Italy tonight as an inspired England, by far the more adventurous and purposeful, were thwarted by crucial errors and lack of composure at key moments – not to mention being on the wrong end of a couple of refereeing decisions.
Meanwhile New Zealand, wise beyond their years, had the game management, led by outside-half Gareth Anscombe, and showed they have the defensive qualities as well as the offensive flair and opportunism to win big games. New Zealand at junior level, unlike their senior counterparts, do not choke in World finals.
It was a big night for New Zealand captain Luke Whitelock as he lifted the trophy. The number eight is the latest in the Canterbury Whitelock dynasty and was winning his second Junior World Championship.
England were immense to a man from the moment they belted out the National Anthem with lung-busting pride. The front-row did their grunt work superbly and showed great skills in open space. Sussex can be proud of its second row of Charlie Matthews, not long out of Hurstpierpoint College where he was head boy and partnered in the engine room by Joe Launchbury, a product of Christ’s Hospital, Horsham, while England’s back-row were tireless. Behind the pack England were a joy to watch, but lacking precision at times, with wheels that frightened New Zealand and that has never been said at this level.
“It was a tough battle. We thought we could take them tonight. The strength of our squad has been to dig deep and fight for each other. New Zealand have got a bit of everything and are dangerous all over the park,” said England’s outstanding captain Alex Gray.
England made a really positive start; clearly not intimidated by the scary statistic that New Zealand have never lost a game in the history of this championship.
George Ford, at just 18 the youngest player in the tournament, played a clever kicking game getting in behind New Zealand, playing in opposition territory.
England showed plenty of pace and invention outwide and it was the speed of Wasps flier Christian Wade, taking a clever inside pass from Owen Farrell, that produced England’s first try, although there was a suspicion Wade might have just brushed the touchline on the way in.
Gray was leading the huge forward effort, epitomized by tight-head Henry Thomas. The giant Sale prop, a product of Millfield, made a terrific try-saving tackle on wing Mitchell Scott on 22 minutes.
But New Zealand’s other wing Charles Piutau opened New Zealand’s try account in the 26th minute. New Zealand, spotting wing Andy Short down injured, spun it wide and a great run by Canterbury hooker CodieTaylor put Piutau away.
Auckland outside-half Gareth Anscombe was Dan Carter-esque with the boot and just before the break a driving maul from a lineout created a try for prop Ben Tameifuna, giving New Zealand a 20-10 half-time lead.
Anscombe stretched the advantage and then Ford missed a penalty in front of the post. But England then produced a magnificent try, started by a sumptuous offload from the tournament’s heaviest man Mako Vunipola and after a lovely floated pass by Owen Farrell, finished by fellow prop Thomas, showing pace and a nose for the whitewash that should mean instant dismissal from the front-row club. Ford converted from the touchline.
England were now on fire, playing terrific rugby, rocking the supposedly invincible Baby Blacks. Ford made a little step and offload to Matt Kvesic, but somehow New Zealand scurm-half TJ Perenara got an arm under the ball as the Worcester flanker, a warhorse throughout, tried to ground it.
No problem. England simply came back again for more and a beautiful kick by Elliot Daly was skilfully kicked on and touched down by Wade for the RGS High Wycombe alumnus to score his second of the game and seventh of the tournament, only for another Anscombe penalty to put New Zealand 26-22 ahead on the hour.
England were relentless, but mistakes were thwarting their ambition. On 71 minutes Ford, such a rich talent but hot and cold as a kicker, missed another penalty.
New Zealand had all the luck and five minutes from time Beauden Barrett, the Taranaki full-back, who has played for the New Zealand Sevens side, clearly handed off Ford before he gathered the ball for the crucial score and the unerring boot of Anscombe did the rest.
Ben Ransom (Saracens); Andy Short (Worcester), Elliot Daly (Wasps), Owen Farrell (Saracens), Christian Wade (Wasps); George Ford (Leicester), Chris Cook (Bath); Mako Vunipola (Saracens), Mike Haywood (Northampton), Henry Thomas (Sale), Joe Launchbury (Wasps), Charlie Matthews (Harlequins), Sam Jones (Wasps), Matt Kvesic (Worcester), Alex Gray (Newcastle – capt)
Rob Buchanan (Harlequins)
Will Collier (Harlequins)
Sam Twomey (Harlequins)
Matt Everard (Leicester)
Dan Robson (Gloucester)
Ryan Mills (Gloucester)
Marland Yarde (London Irish)
Beauden Barrett (Taranaki); Mitchell Scott (Tasman), Francis Saili (Auckland), Lima Sopoaga (Wellington), Charles Piutau (Auckland); Gareth Anscombe (Auckland), TJ Perenara (Wellington); Solomona Sakalia (Wellington), Codie Taylor (Canterbury), Ben Tameifuna (Hawke’s Bay), Steven Luatua (Auckland), Brodie Retallick (Hawke’s Bay), Brad Shields (Wellington), Sam Cane (Bay of Plenty), Luke Whitelock (Canterbury -capt).
Sefo Setefano (Waikato)
Michael Kainga (Wellington)
Dominic Bird (Canterbury)
Carl Axtens (Bay of Plenty)
Brad Weber (Otago)
Rhys Llewellyn (Canterbury)
Waisake Naholo ((Taranaki)
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
5-0 Wade try
7-0 Ford con
7-3 Anscombe pen
7-8 Piutau try
7-10 Anscombe con
7-13 Anscombe pen
10-13 Ford pen
10-18 Tameifuna try
10-20 Anscombe con
10-23 Anscombe pen
15-23 Thomas try
17-23 Ford con
22-23 Wade try
22-26 Anscombe pen
22-31 Barrett try
22-33 Anscombe con