England grateful for tough Baby Boks test
June 19, 2011
England's George Ford leads the celebrations following his side's hard-fought victory over South Africa © Getty Images
England U20s captain Alex Gray hailed the "bottle" shown by his side after they booked a place in the IRB Junior World Championship semi-finals with victory over South Africa.
Rob Hunter's side qualified for the final four with a dramatic 26-20 victory over the Baby Boks at the Stadio Plebiscito in Padova, Italy and will now meet France in Wednesday's knock-out clash. Tries from London Wasps centre Elliot Daly, Newcastle Falcons No. 8 Gray and Wasps wing Christian Wade helped England to the success, while Leicester Tigers fly-half George Ford scored 11 points with the boot.
"The biggest positive is we were really, really tested," reflected Gray, whose side accounted for Scotland and Ireland in their earlier pool clashes. "A lot of the boys will never have faced intensity like that, they really chucked everything at us and it showed what bottle we had I think, what type of individuals we were to close the game off.
"It was really tough out there, it was a case of two talented sides giving absolutely everything to make sure they got into the next round, and fortunately we edged it. They really came at us and we had to fight until the death - I lost count of the number of try-saving tackles we made.
"It was definitely one of the hardest matches I've played in, especially those last five minutes - I can't remember being in a game that tense for a long time. It's good to have that experience in the bank though, and hopefully it will stand us in good stead for our semi-final against France.
"We started both halves with real intent and I was lucky enough to get on the end of a nice team move to score at the start of the second. It was difficult because South Africa were always within touching distance, they're one of the best sides in the world so it's hard to stop them - they live on momentum. Our objective was to stop that momentum and at times we did, and on other occasions we just had to scramble for our lives."
England will now tackle France just a few months after beating them 19-6 in this year's U20 Six Nations. "The boys played well and I'm proud of what we have achieved so far in this competition, but there's still a long way to go. A few of the boys pulled out some amazing last-ditch try saving tackles and that just sums up the spirit within the camp and how hard we're prepared to work for each other," added Gray.
"We all want to achieve something and we want to fight hard and win for each other as well - you can't coach that, you can't develop that, it's just something that comes from within. France are up next for us and even though we beat them in the 6 Nations a few months back that counts for very little. It's a different ball game out here and they're in good form, but so are we."
France will grace the semi-finals for the first time having upset Australia 31-25 in their final pool clash in Treviso - a result that was still good enough for Australia to progress as the best runners-up at the expense of South Africa.
"It was very hard until the end, I am proud for the players, they played to their maximum today," commented France coach Philippe Boher. "They did want they wanted to do, the exerted a good period of domination and they played with very good adaption. We also had a touch of French flair in this game and that is very interesting for us."
Australia coach David Nucifora regretted his side's slow start: "The French played well and they deserved their victory," he said following the game. "We just gave them too big a headstart and we were playing catch up and we couldn't quite get there in the end, it was close but we weren't at our best and that wasn't good enough for that game."
Three-time defending champions New Zealand, unbeaten in the competition since it started in 2008, made it 18 wins in-a-row with a 48-15 victory over Argentina and will now face their cross-Tasman rivals in a repeat of last year's final - won 62-17 by New Zealand.
"It was a bit messy from our point of view," said the Baby Blacks coach Mark Anscombe. "I thought we started pretty well, we scored a few tries but I think we got a bit complacent and we got ahead of ourselves and we loosened up and we gave them a few opportunities, which they took and they got their self belief from that and I thought they played some good rugby in the back end of that first half. They really stretched us and we were fortunate to come out on the right end of the ledger at half time."
IRB Junior World Championship Semi-Finals: (June 22)
9th Place Semi Finals:
5th Place Semi-Finals:
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