England edge South Africa for Junior World title

20 June 2014

In a tightly fought battle between 2012 champions South Africa and 2013 champions England, the English narrowly claimed the honours 21-20 in the final of the 2014 IRB Junior World Championships at Eden Park in Auckland on Friday.

“We fought hard this whole tournament. We had two great wins against New Zealand, in the pool stages and the semi-final. We weren’t up for it tonight. We just weren’t good enough,” South African captain Handre Pollard said in a post-match interview on the field.

‘They disrupted us a bit there’

Speaking about his side’s tactical approach, Pollard added: “I think we played the kicking game well, but they were very good at set pieces. I think any English side is good at set pieces. They disrupted us a bit there and that’s what we pride ourselves on, that’s where we start our set plays, so I think they did well to disrupt us there.

“Credit has to go the English guys for fighting hard.”

‘An amazing feeling’

England captain Maro Itoje was thrilled with his side’s victory. “It’s an amazing feeling. We worked so hard. Joy and tribulation. This has been a fantastic experience for us,” he said.

IRB Junior Player of the Year

It was a bittersweet occasion for South African skipper Pollard, who was named the IRB Junior Player of the Year at the post-match presentations. He joins Jan Serfontein (2012) and Pat Barnard (2002) as South African winners of the prestigious award.

From the kick off, the English played the game inside the Junior Springboks’ half for the first five minutes of the contest, but Pollard and company slowly started moving the game downfield.

First points

After the men in green and gold’s first concerted attack, England flyhalf Billy Burns was blown for going off his feet at a ruck and Pollard knocked over the easy penalty to give South Africa the early lead.

After a knock-on from the restart, however, England were able to exert similar pressure on South Africa and this time Burns had a crack at the posts. His effort was good and the teams were level at 3-3.

South African try

The Baby Boks hit the front again in the 20th minute when they quickly turned over England ball just outside the defending champions’ 22. Pollard put in a deft chip for Jesse Kriel to run onto. It was perfectly placed and Kriel gathered it and beat fullback Aaron Morris in the same motion to go over for his fourth try of the tournament on the left.

Pollard converted the five-pointer to make it South Africa 10, England 3.

With the Junior Springboks still camping in the England half, Pollard came oh so close to making it a 10-point South African lead, but his left-footed drop kick from just outside the English 22 was narrowly wide of the mark.

With the two big packs battling for supremacy, South Africa began to enjoy some superiority in the lineouts, thanks mainly to the work of lock JD Schickerling.

Huge penalty

However, a huge 56-metre penalty from Aaron Morris four minutes before the break reduced the gap between the teams to three points as the arm wrestle continued.

Then, with the half-time imminent, centre Nick Tompkins bust through a number of tackles before he was brought down just short of the South African tryline. England quickly recycled the ball and moved it wide to the right where Nathan Earle had an easy run in for a try. Burns missed with his conversion attempt. England led 11-10 and the half-time hooter sounded.

Burns extended the English lead with a penaty four minutes into the second stanza, but Pollard made it a one-point game again when he replied with a penalty two minutes later.

Second English try

England, though, soon improved on their advantage when they scored a second try through Joel Conlon, with Burns adding the extras to make it England 21, South Africa 13.

After wing Howard Packman had made ground up to the South African 22, fellow winger Nathan Earle took his team to within sight of the tryline, but the ball went loose off of Sergeal Petersen and into touch for an England thrown-in, from which they drove Conlon over to extend their advantage.

South African response

The Junior Springboks were far from done, however, and they soon found a second try of their own. After creating space down the left from a set scrum, Duhan van der Merwe brushed off a tackle before finding Jesse Kriel on his inside. The centre then rounded off a smart move with a neat sidestep of the fullback to go over for his second try of the final.

Pollard pulled his team to back within one point of England with a successful conversion and the battle for the Junior World Championships title was well and truly back on.

Junior Springbok pressure

Having scored, South Africa surged back onto the attack after ripping the ball free from a driving maul by England. Playing the game inside the English 22, they kept the men in white under pressure, with Kriel coming close to the tryline again. When England tried to clear their lines, they couldn’t find any distance on their clearances on their kicks and the Junior Springboks remained on the attack.

Pollard tried a drop kick from wide on the right, but his kick was just right of the posts. The miss, importantly, enabled England to kick as far as they possibly could downfield.

Once they regained possession after South Africa conceded a penalty for illegal scummaging they ran the clock down to seal a second successive title.