Saturday 20 June 2015 – 8.30pm (Italian time)
Stadio Giovanni Zini, Cremona, Italy
World Rugby Under 20 Championship Final
New Zealand won their first under-20 world championship in four years and ended England’s two-year reign with a 21-16 victory in Italy last night.
A physical performance from the young Kiwis was just about enough to wrestle the title from the English Rosebuds, who gave their all but didn’t quite have enough to beat the Baby Blacks.
England named an unchanged side from Monday’s semi-final, with a number of players who have Premiership experience, including captain James Chisholm and Newcastle Falcons’ Will Witty in the forward pack.
England were pretty dominant in the opening twenty minutes. Although their opening try came from centre Max Clark, the England forwards shoved the Baby Blacks’ pack around in the maul and particularly the scrum. Bristol’s Ellis Genge was showing up well on the loosehead side.
New Zealand’s only inroad came from a penalty by Otere Black in response to Clark’s try, but this was answered by Rory Jennings, England’s fly-half from Bath.
Vincent Tevae-Aso, just on as a replacement for TJ Faiane, broke through England’s defence for an unconverted try, and the game became a bit more even for a while.
England made their first replacement, the third in the first half hour in all, when Piers O’Conor came on for Aaron Morris. This is a trend I’ve noticed creeping into rugby more in the past year or so – more injuries in the first half. Hopefully it’s just coaches taking more precautions.
England captain Charlie Ewels dived offside on his own line to give Black the opportunity to put the Baby Blacks ahead for the first time and the New Zealand fly-half kicked between the posts to put his side 11-10 up.
It stayed like that until half-time, and despite England having probably been the better team in the first forty, they were in danger of losing the crown they have held for the past two years. Our own Will Witty hadn’t been too conspicuous but had got through some good breakdown work.
Akira Ioane drove over from a ruck early in the second half to extend the Baby Blacks’ lead to 18-10, but the powerful number eight was quickly sent to the bin for what the assistant referee considered an armless tackle on Jennings. The fly-half picked himself up and knocked over the penalty, reducing the deficit to five points.
With fifty minutes gone, Witty’s work was done, the Falcon being replaced by Harlequins’ Kieran Treadwell.
The game was almost turned on its head by a bit of a bizarre try by O’Conor. Howard Packman, whom I last saw being taken off at Franklin’s Gardens after injuring himself in a Chris Ashton-like try-scoring dive, took a high ball, broke upfield and then dribbled forward. O’Conor chased with Blake Gibson, who dived but didn’t get the ball, and the England replacement gathered and spun to touch down.
Unfortunately, O’Conor had been slightly in front of Packman when the Northampton winger kicked the ball, and after some assistance from his TMO, Australian referee Will Houston disallowed the score.
Jennings’ third penalty of the night cut the deficit further, but just before Ioane returned to the field, Black returned his team’s lead to five points with a penalty for England hanging on in the tackle.
With twenty minutes left, England looked like they might be a little devoid of ideas, struggling to cope New Zealand’s physicality in defence and attack.
The game threatened to fizzle out a bit, with not a lot happening apart from fireworks outside the stadium and missed penalties by each team.
England looked to attack with five minutes left but Paul Hill’s pass was too far in front of Packman and went forwards. New Zealand then penned England back in their own half for the rest of the game, a scrum with ninety seconds to go allowing the Baby Blacks to run the clock down by keeping the ball tight, and finally kicking out to secure the trophy for Kiwis for the first time since 2011.
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