New Zealand edge out gutsy England for glory
June 26, 2011
New Zealand celebrate lifting the IRB Junior World Championship title
© Getty Images
New Zealand claimed a fourth successive IRB Junior World Championship title with a 33-22 victory in a thrilling clash at the Stadio Plebiscito in Padova.
Tries from winger Charles Piutau, prop Ben Tameifuna and a controversial score from fullback Beauden Barrett carried the Baby Blacks to glory with the steadying boot of fly-half Gareth Anscombe supplying 18 points to subdue a determined England. A brace from winger Christian Wade and another from prop Henry Thomas had raised hopes of an England victory with fly-half George Ford at the heart of an outstanding display but they were unable to loosen their rivals' grip on the U20 crown.
England made a lively start and exerted all the early pressure and while their lineout failed to click their work with ball in hand brought them due reward. Ford and centre Owen Farrell were involved heavily in the build up as England peppered the New Zealand defence and the ball was eventually worked wide to Wade who powered past New Zealand scrum-half TJ Perenara on his way to the opening try with just six minutes on the clock. The score was the winger's sixth of the competition and Ford added the extras to cement his side's lead.
England continued to dominate and pressure at scrum time led to the next opening with Farrell's clever kick through just evading winger Andy Short. A rattled New Zealand struggled for their usual composure as England's varied game kept them camped inside their own half. England gleefully accepted the opportunities to run from deep as their rivals kicked long to relieve the pressure and when New Zealand opted to run their way out of trouble they were offered little room for manoeuvre.
New Zealand were forced to live off scraps but it looked like it was all they needed to wrestle their way back into the game when Mitchell Scott crossed in the corner after a clearance kick from England fullback Ben Ransom had been charged down by No.8 Luke Whitelock. But the score was ruled out after the Television Match Official ruled that a superb cover tackle from Thomas had forced Scott into touch. Play was called back and New Zealand had to settle for a penalty with Anscombe finally putting his side on the board just past the midway point in the half.
And they soon had the lead. A great run from hooker Cody Taylor after a quickly-taken lineout exploited the space left by an injury to Short and Piutau loomed up on the inside to collect the ball and cross for his sixth try of the tournament. Anscombe nailed the difficult conversion to take New Zealand out to a 10-7 lead.
A fierce and competitive battle was playing out at the breakdown and a minor victory for New Zealand offered Anscombe the chance to add to his tally and his long-range effort had just enough to extend his side's advantage. England rallied well and when Wade was pulled back off the ball as he looked to inject some pact to an attack, Ford was able to reduce the arrears as referee Jaco Peper issued a warning to New Zealand skipper Whitelock.
The ever-dangerous Piutau sparked the next raid with another burst down the touchline and Taylor was hauled down just short by Wade with England stretched to breaking point. New Zealand opted to kick the resulting penalty to the corner for the lineout and the gamble paid off as England's defence finally gave way with Tameifuna emerging with the ball. Anscombe made no mistake with the conversion to send his side into the break with a 10-point lead.
England offered some adventure following the re-start with a great break from Farrell but a sloppy offside error gifted Anscombe the chance to give New Zealand some more breathing room and his kick sailed through the posts. Undeterred, England powered forward again with their forwards forcing the mistake from New Zealand lock Steven Luatua whose failure to roll away afforded Ford his next chance but his kick drifted wide.
But England did not dwell on the miss and were soon back in the game thanks to a superb score. Loose-head Mako Vunipola showed great hands in midfield as England streamed through a rare gap in the New Zealand defence. Support came in numbers and lock Charlie Matthews took the attack into the 22 before the vision of Ford put Thomas away and there was no stopping the tight-head from 25m. Ford rediscovered his form with the boot to land the conversion from out wide to add further fuel to England's comeback.
It looked as if there was more cause for celebration just a couple of minutes later as England rode some significant momentum. Ford was again the key with a dart into the 22 before drawing two tacklers and popping the ball to flanker Matt Kvesic. But his attempt to ground the ball under the posts was thwarted by Perenara who got a priceless arm in the way. England re-grouped for the scrum but were shoved off the ball by New Zealand who celebrated clearing the danger - but their delight was short-lived.
Farrell had soon carved out a vital opening with another clever kick into space and Wade's pace took him clear of his rivals before some neat football skills allowed him to touch down for his second try. Ford was unable to add the conversion but England were back to within a point. But yet again, the boot of Anscombe offered an immediate answer with another penalty after Vunipola was penalised within range.
The pace of the game did not let up in the final quarter with England looking the hungrier and Ford opted to kick for the lineout inside the 22 when Taylor was penalised at the breakdown. The throw failed to find its target and although Ford swept up before crossing under the posts, play came back for a knock on by Vunipola. The ball was scrambled away before Ransom led the next raid that resulted in New Zealand being penalised for going to ground - but Ford's form deserted him again with the penalty.
In contrast, New Zealand were at their clinical best a couple of minutes later with game-defining yet controversial score. A kick ahead from centre Limo Sopoaga put Piutau away and although England scrambled to haul him down, the ball fell kindly for the Kiwis. Barrett charged after the loose ball and pushed Ford aside on his way to touching the ball down but his offence was missed by the officials and the score stood. Anscombe's conversion edged New Zealand nearer the title and the final whistle a few minutes later would confirm their dominance.
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Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.
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