Rugby: England hold on to win JWC final

By Campbell Burnes

England players celebrate their 21-20 win against South Africa. Photo / Brett Phibbs
England players celebrate their 21-20 win against South Africa. Photo / Brett Phibbs

England 21
South Africa 20

In the closest Junior World Championship final ever, England held on doggedly for their second crown in two years.

There was no quarter asked, and none given, in this draining decider. But it kicked off with a very different look for England.

South Africa's pack ripped into their work, hauling down lineouts, cleaning out and making clear yards close to the ruck. However, halfback JP Smith was having a nightmare, twice being charged down and also knocking on. The early field position and possession battle was South Africa's after an early foray by England highlighted by the fact that dangerman on the right wing (but wearing the No 11 jersey) Nathan Earle decided to kick the ball instead of having his man on.

It was left to Junior Boks No 10 Handre Pollard to break the stalemate with a classic heads-up play, chipping over the top of the defence where a fortuitous bounce found centre Jesse Kriel.

England's lineout, so smooth for much of the last three weeks, came under serious early heat from South Africa, who challenged them on their ball and mucked up their equilibrium. Their talented backline was starved of quality ball to cut their usual capers.

It was a stark reminder of New Zealand's set-piece implosion against the Junior Boks in pool play.

There was a heap of kicking, as one would expect from a decider, but South Africa were more adept off the boot in the first spell.

Then something extraordinary transpired. England fullback Aaron Morris landed a monster penalty goal from 55m at the 33 minute mark. It would have cleared from another few metres back. Then, against all the run of play, England centre Nick Tompkins made a long thrust, the ball was swung right on the blindside and Earle waltzed over for his sixth of the tournament. It gave them an 11-10 lead into the break, against most odds.

Then the pendulum swung. The Junior Boks tired. It was as if South Africa had punched themselves out, like George Foreman in the 1974 Rumble in the Jungle. All it needed was the knockout blow.

England's starter plays were executed in slicker fashion and men like No 14 Howard Packman were able to make forays well over the gain line. Then replacement Joel Conlon crashed over on the end of an effective drive. England looked energised, hot to trot.

South Africa was on the back foot and seemingly powerless to reactivate their clinical game.

Leading the way for England were No 8 James Chisholm and tighthead Paul Hill, aided and abetted by South African turnovers which started to eat away at their confidence, let alone field position.

Yet once again we saw a breakout try, the second to Jesse Kriel. Fullback Warrick Gelant injected himself to create the overlap on the blind of a scrum and several passes later Kriel was in again.

Galvanised, South Africa drove themselves deep into England territory with no intention of moving far. Cyle Brink, Nico Janse van Rensburg... they all emptied the tank after five games in 19 days. But Pollard could not position himself for a decent drop goal attempt and pushed one just wide.

England have played five JWC finals now for their two wins.

A crowd of just over 5000, paltry for a final, enjoyed the action, many barracking for South Africa.

England (Nathan Earle, Joel Conlon tries; Billy Burns con, 2 pens, Aaron Morris pen) South Africa (Jesse Kriel 2 tries; Handre Pollard 2 cons, 2 pens) HT: 11-10 England

- NZ Herald

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