Mature Baby Blacks topple English champions

England’s reign as champions of the under-twenty Rugby Union World Cup was brought to an end last night by a remarkably efficient New Zealand side, in a final that highlighted Rugby Union’s bright future.

The game was anyone’s guess as the two teams lined up, with the third place play off resulting in a victory for South Africa over a French side that had previously beaten England; no two finalists could be said to have had the definitively ‘easier’ ride.

England started promisingly, with fly-half Jennings fielding the kick-off with a well-placed kick of his own, pinning the Baby Blacks into their own half and allowing the English youngsters to assert some real pressure. This was followed by a blistering try in the fourth minute from inside centre, Clark who exploited an uncharacteristically disjointed Baby Blacks defence by cutting a superb inside line. New Zealand, however were quick to respond. Scrum half, Tahuriorangi ensured a quick attack that led to England having to illegally slow the ball down at the ruck. The resulting penalty left the score at 7-3 and after only ten minutes both sides had shown just what they were capable of.

Throughout the majority of the first half, England seemed to seize control of the tempo and structure of the game. They maintained a formidably aggressive defence which was bolstered by some equally effective breakdown work from the likes of number 8, Chisolm and loosehead prop, Genge. New Zealand seemed unable to puncture the English wall and for a while appeared rattled and confused, dropping balls and throwing wild passes which surely did not fit the New Zealand standard of play. Despite a breakaway try from New Zealand replacement Tavae-Aso (who danced past the otherwise wholly impressive flanker, Ludlam) England were in charge – with a one hundred percent success rate at the scrum for the first half.

The second half began with the score at 10-11, as England looked to reassert their dominance over a side that had begun to look ever more dangerous in the dying minutes of the first half. New Zealand, however clearly had other ideas, as their number 8, Ioane (arguably the stand out player of the tournament and certainly one to watch) crashed over for a well worked try in the forty fourth minute, making the score 10-18. A few minutes later, Ioane was shown a very harsh yellow card for a fractionally late tackle, which gifted England the chance to do some real damage to a depleted Baby Blacks side. England however were unable to capitalise on this and when the number 8 returned, the
score was 16-21 – as it would remain for the rest of the match.

Following Ioane’s return New Zealand ruthlessly and effectively squeezed the life out of the game, illustrating that they know more than one way to win a game of rugby. Routinely being pinned back in their own half (having four lineouts in their own twenty-two in the last twenty minutes) England were unable to retake control of a game that was very much in the Baby Blacks’ hands.

So, with England’s crown over the under-twenty championship being lifted, should we despair over the future of English rugby? No. Of course not. England were beaten by a side that performed with more maturity on the day, plain and simple. But with players like Ewels, Grenge and Jennings looking set to follow in the footsteps of under-twenties greats like George Ford and most recently Maro Itoje, the future is still very very promising.

James Candler

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