England beat the Junior Springboks 21-20 in a thrilling final at Eden Park to retain their Junior World Championship crown. BRENTON CHELIN reports.
The match pitted the tournament's only two unbeaten sides against each other, and the closeness of the two was reflected on the scoreboard. The Junior Boks fell agonisingly short in their bid to regain the title they relinquished to the English last year.
Handré Pollard opened the scoring for the Junior Boks after his opposite number Billy Burns was pinged at ruck time. Burns responded with a penalty of his own in what was a sloppy opening quarter in tricky conditions.
The Junior Boks would go on to grab the opening try after the English squandered possession trying to run a penalty from deep in their half. The ball was spread wide for Pollard, who put in a sublime chip-kick over the onrushing English defence. Jesse Kriel swept onto the ball to go over as Pollard added the extras to give his side a 10-3 lead.
Having troubled the English up front and in the lineouts, the South Africans may well have been further to the good at that stage had they been more clinical.
England would make them pay for their wastefulness. First through a long-range Aaron Morris penalty, before IRB Junior Player of the Year nominee Nathan Earle crashed over in the corner to give the English a 11-10 half-time lead.
Burns and Pollard traded penalties shortly after half-time before England scored what proved to be a match-winning try. Having turned down the opportunity for three points, the English instead opted for the corner. They set up the maul and the Junior Boks were helpless to stop them from rumbling over.
South Africa would simply not lie down, though, and hit back through another Jesse Kriel try. It was another fine example of what this side is capable of when keeping the ball in hand, and helped to set up a grandstand finish.
Try as they might, the Junior Boks could not breach the English defence in the final 15 minutes, with a Pollard drop-goal attempt drifting agonisingly past the right upright with just minutes remaining.
It would be the English who would hang on to claim the narrowest of victories and defend the title they won in France last year.
South Africa U20 – Tries: Jesse Kriel (2). Conversions: Handré Pollard (2). Penalties: Pollard (2).
England U20 – Tries: Nathan Earle, Joe Conlon. Coversions: Billy Burns. Penalties: Burns (2), Aaron Morris.
South Africa U20 – 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Dan Kriel, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 André Esterhuizen, 11 Sergeal Petersen, 10 Handré Pollard (c), 9 JP Smith, 8 Aidon Davis, 7 Cyle Brink, 6 Jacques Vermeulen, 5 Nico Janse van Rensburg, 4 JD Schickerling, 3 Dayan van der Westhuizen, 2 Corniel Els, 1 Thomas du Toit.
Subs: 16 Joseph Dweba, 17 Pierre Schoeman, 18 Wilco Louw, 19 Victor Sekekete, 20 Jean-Luc du Preez, 21 Zee Mkhabela, 22 Jean-Luc du Plessis, 23 Duhan van der Merwe.
England U20 – 15 Aaron Morris, 14 Howard Packman, 13 Nick Tompkins, 12 Harry Sloan, 11 Nathan Earle, 10 Billy Burns, 9 Henry Taylor, 8 Danny Hobbs-Awoyemi, 7 Tom Woolstencroft, 6 Paul Hill, 5 Maro Itoje (c), 4 Charlie Ewels, 3 Ross Moriarty, 2 Gus Jones, 1 James Chisholm.
Subs: 16 Jack Walker, 17 Alex Lundberg, 18 Biyi Alo, 19 Hayden Thompson-Stringer, 20 Joel Conlon, 21 Callum Braley, 22 Sam Olver, 23 Henry Purdy.
Photo: Hannah Peters/Getty Images