England edge South Africa for junior rugby title
England are back-to-back under-20 world champions.
The English won an intense Junior World Rugby Championship final 21-20 over South Africa at Eden Park in Auckland tonight.
South Africa trailed in four of their five games in the Junior World Championship, coming back to win each of their first three.
It wasn’t to be a fourth time, as England matched South Africa’s muscle, and their backs shone.
Nerves were getting the better of both sides early on, with simply passes missing their mark and drops going to ground.
Kicking was wayward and lineouts were shaky, and neither team was able to calm down.
Handre Pollard gave South Africa an early lead through a penalty, but Billy Burns replied with a penalty for England two minutes later.
After his calm, commanding displays throughout the tournament, it was fitting that Pollard’s brilliance gave South Africa their first try of the match.
His well-weighted chip kick inside the English 22m line bounced perfectly for centre Jesse Kriel who did the rest to score.
South Africa were starting to prove their dominance in the set piece as the half wore on, but England were edging the battle at the breakdown.
The Africans were also winning the tactical kicking battle, with Pollard twice finding touch deep inside the English half.
That’s where lock JD Shickerling was going to work, winning three lineouts against the throw in the first 30 minutes.
English wing Howard Packman seemed to think he was at the wrong World Cup near the end of the second half, taking a dive under minimal contact in chasing a ball he had just kicked ahead.
Aaron Morris drilled a 55 metre penalty for England as time ticked down on the first 40 minutes, pulling his team within four points.
That sparked the English at the end of the half, with a rampaging run from centre Nick Tompkins setting the stage for Nathan Earle to score a try in the corner.
Burns and Pollard exchanged penalties in the opening moments of the second half as both sides looked to find some dominance.
England found it through their forwards, putting pressure on the South Africans they hadn’t dealt with in the tournament to date.
Replacement flanker Joel Conlon scored when England mauled over the South African line, extending the lead to eight with 52 minutes gone.
On the back of the strong foundation in the forwards England were starting to get confidence to throw the ball around, and South Africa were struggling to handle it.
Second-five Harry Sloan, Tompkins, Earle and Packman were finding their way through the line at will, continually keeping South Africa on the back foot.
South Africa were back in it with 63 minutes gone, having barely withstood the pressure from England, scoring a stunning long range try up the left touchline.
It was Kriel with his second of the night, after great work from Henry Purdy breaking past Earle.
Chants of ‘‘Bokke’’ were echoing around Eden Park as South Africa hunted the tournament title, when Pollard kicked a drop goal just wide of the posts with eight minutes remaining.
That kicked proved the clincher, as England kept their composure over the final few minutes to close out the match.
South African captain and first-five Handre Pollard was awarded the IRB World Junior Player of the Year award following the final, beating English wing Nathan Earle, New Zealand’s Tevita Li and Ireland’s Garry Ringrose to the title.
England 21 (Nathan Earle, Joel Conlon tries; Billy Burns con, 2 pens, Aaron Morris pen) South Africa 20 (Jesse Kriel 2 tries; Handre Pollard 2 con, 2 pens) HT 11-10