England eye Baby Blacks upset
June 25, 2011
The captains, Alex Gray and Luke Whitelock, pose with the JWC trophy ahead of Sunday's clash in Treviso. © Getty Images
England U20s captain Alex Gray is confident that his side can upset the odds and beat New Zealand in the IRB Junior World Championship Final in Padova on Sunday.
The Baby Blacks enter the showpiece game riding a 19-game winning streak dating back to the inaugural tournament in 2008. That incredible run has seen them claim the last three world titles - beating England on two those occasions in 2008 (38-3) and 2009 (44-28). But Gray, whose side have won all nine of their matches this year, five of them in claiming the Six Nations Grand Slam, is not overawed.
"New Zealand have an aura about them but they definitely aren't unbeatable," he said ahead of the Stadio Plebiscito showdown. "They sweat, they bleed - they're human, so if we go out there with the right gameplan then I'm confident we can give them a run for their money.
"A final is a one-off game, it is all-or- nothing rugby and we have a chance. It will be my last game as an under-20 player and I expect it will be pretty emotional. It has been a long run, and a few of us have played together since we were with the under-16s so it just gives us an added incentive to pull out all the stops when we play the Baby Blacks.
"To be involved in any final is a massive honour, the boys have worked so hard to get to where we are. We started out as a group in September with the ultimate aim of winning both the Six Nations and the Junior World Championships. We won the Six Nations back in March and now we've got a chance of winning the Junior World Cup."
Gray's confidence is shared by fly-half George Ford who has been one of key figures in England's run to the final that has seen them account for Ireland, Scotland, South Africa and France. "We know that we're in for a tough match against New Zealand, but anyone can beat anyone on their day so we'll prepare as well as we can and look to produce our best rugby," said the 18-year-old, who may yet grace another U20s tournament.
"It will be our last game together as a group and we want to give it absolutely everything. I've thoroughly enjoyed playing in the Junior World Championship. It's a valuable experience and to be able to test yourself against the best players from across the world will stand us all in good stead in the future."
Head coach Rob Hunter has made four changes from the side that accounted for France in the semi-finals with Worcester wing Andy Short, Wasps centre Elliot Daly, his club-mate and flanker Sam Jones and Sale prop Henry Thomas all drafted in.
New Zealand coach Mark Anscombe has made just two changes to his starting line-up. A thigh muscle injury has ruled Glen Robertson out of selection, resulting in Auckland's Francis Saili moving into centre and Tasman's Mitchell Scott coming onto the wing. As a result, Canterbury's Rhys Llewellyn comes onto the bench.
England: Ben Ransom (Saracens); Andy Short (Worcester Warriors), Elliot Daly (London Wasps), Owen Farrell (Saracens), Christian Wade (London Wasps); George Ford (Leicester Tigers), Chris Cook (Bath Rugby), Mako Vunipola (Saracens), Mikey Haywood (Northampton Saints), Henry Thomas (Sale Sharks), Joe Launchbury (London Wasps), Charlie Matthews (Harlequins), Sam Jones (London Wasps), Matt Kvesic (Worcester Warriors), Alex Gray (Captain) (Newcastle Falcons)
Replacements: Rob Buchanan (Harlequins), Will Collier (Harlequins), Sam Twomey (Harlequins), Matt Everard (Leicester Tigers), Dan Robson (Gloucester Rugby), Ryan Mills (Gloucester Rugby), Marland Yarde (London Irish)
New Zealand: 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 Rettalick (Hawke's Bay), Brad Shields (Wellington), Sam Cane (Bay of Plenty), Luke Whitelock (Canterbury, captain)
Replacements: Sefo Setefano (Waikato), Michael Kainga (Wellington), Dominic Bird (Canterbury), Carl Axtens (Bay of Plenty), Brad Weber (Otago), Rhys Llewellyn (Canterbury), Waisake Naholo (Taranaki)
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Huw Richards assesses where Wales are after a mixed Six Nations, with front row seats still very much available for the World Cup
John Mitchell lapped up the action on 'Sensational Saturday' - but warns not to expect a repeat come Rugby World Cup time later this year
Craig Dowd warns England, Ireland and Wales they should play to their strengths rather than those of the All Blacks and the Wallabies
Tom Hamilton runs the rule over just where the six countries stand ahead of the global gathering in September