England cling on to defend JWC crown
June 20, 2014
England's Nick Tompkins roars after the hooter
© Getty Images
England retained their Junior World Championship title with a nail-biting 21-20 victory over South Africa in a final that went right to the wire.
A greasy Eden Park surface played havoc with the both teams' handling, with neither sets of backs able to fire consistently. But England were good enough both in attack and defence when it mattered and lift for the second time in successive years.
England's try-scoring heroes came in the form of Nathan Earle and Joel Conlon, while fly-half Billy Burns matched the illustrious Springbok No.10 Handre Pollard from the kicking tee.
But South Africa did not go quietly. They scrapped like animals in Auckland, scoring two tries of their own through centre Jessie Kriel. Had captain Pollard been more accurate with the boot - he missed two dropped goal attempts - then the title could have been going to the southern rather than northern hemisphere.
England were out to defend the title they won in France last year, fielding an unchanged XV from the one that overran Ireland 42-15 in the semi-finals. South Africa however, presented a fearsome challenge for the defending champions, having overcome New Zealand twice in this year's tournament to reach the final.
Burns and Pollard hit a penalty kick apiece as the match opened in cagey fashion. Both packs had obviously fired themselves up beforehand as they went flying into each other at every opportunity, with England's Ross Moriarty a particularly feisty presence throughout the 80 minutes.
Just when it looked as though supporters were in for a low-scoring forward battle, South Africa struck first thanks to some delightful invention from Pollard. Spotting an opportunity to isolate England full-back Aaron Morris, Pollard chipped a kick over for Kriel to run onto. The Springbok No. 13 was lucky with the bounce, but he collected the slippery ball with authority to round Morris and dive over.
After Pollard added the two points, defence became the watchword, with handling a mess and the breakdown throwing up all sorts of mistakes. But a monster 55m penalty from Morris was a shot in the arm for England while South Africa were lucky not to lose their captain after he took out Henry Taylor in mid-air.
As half-time loomed, England sprang a surprise after a bulldozing Nick Tompkins carry to send Earle skipping over in the corner. Burns missed the extras but England - who had been heading into the break 10-6 down - went in 11-10 to the good.
Burns and Pollard once again exchanged penalties as the second-half got under way and, with only one point between them, the pressure on both sets of young men cranked up a notch.
England took a giant leap towards securing the trophy as they barged over for their second try. Having originally awarded a line-out to South Africa just five metres from their line, referee Federico Anselmi switched the decision in England's favour. Securing possession, they set up a maul that could not be stopped and Joel Conlon barrelled over. Burns converted to put England 19-13 up.
What followed was ten minutes of edge-of-your-seat rugby as South Africa threw everything they had at England. They hit back via another Jessie Kriel try, this time the centre finishing off a Springbok breakaway move. Pollard's extras put South Africa just one point behind with 15 minutes to play.
England clung on for the closing minutes despite a South African onslaught on their line. Pollard had an opportunity to put his side back in front but his drop goal attempt fell wide. From then on, England ground down the minutes as they prayed for the hooter to sound.
The closing stages were certainly not pretty, but England will not care one little bit as they celebrate tonight. They lift the Junior World Championship trophy for the second time in two years, but they were made to fight for it by a valiant South Africa effort.
Ross Moriarty, who battled like a man possessed for England at Eden Park, charges forward © Getty Images
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