Colts players tipped for greater things

NZ Colts 30 Australia Colts 13

SYDNEY - The New Zealand Colts may have been short on superstars, but coach Colin Cooper has no doubts many of them will go on to higher honours.

The New Zealanders on Saturday produced a fine team effort built on some rugged defence to beat Australia in the Southern Hemisphere under-21 championship final.

The win at the Sydney Showgrounds means they keep the title they won at home last year.

New Zealand's line-up included three players with Super 12 experience - Crusaders flanker Richard McCaw, Blues winger Malili Muliaina and Hurricanes fullback Shannon Paku.

A fourth, skipper and Crusaders first five-eighth Aaron Mauger, was sidelined with injury.

"Last year's Colts were pretty special and a lot of them went on to Super 12," Cooper said. "I'm picking a lot of these boys will, too."

Cooper, a Colts selector for three years who is in his first year as coach, believed it was the team ethic that won New Zealand the tournament, in which they beat Argentina, England and Ireland in pool play.

He said the way the New Zealanders were able to overcome the absence in the final of Mauger, who pulled a hamstring against Ireland, demonstrated that.

"Aaron was a huge part of the team and for us to go on to win without him just proves how tight this group of players is."

New Zealand were superbly led by stand-in captain McCaw, who shone with his play around the park.

He was ably supported by No 8 Steven Bates, and centre Jason Shoemark impressed on attack and defence.

Solo tries by second five-eighth Sam Mapusua and Shoemark helped New Zealand to take a 14-3 lead at halftime.

Australia got back to within four points when winger Tui Talaia scored only the second try New Zealand conceded in the tournament.

But with the Australians prone to turning over the ball because of the strong defence they encountered, New Zealand sealed the win when McCaw and then substitute back Tane Tu'ipulotu touched down.

Cooper said New Zealand's physical presence was the key to victory.

"I don't think Australia had had the pressure put on them that this team put on them," he said. "We were able to apply pressure in the lineout and at the breakdown, and with pressure comes mistakes and dropped passes."

Cooper described McCaw's performance as "outstanding." He also praised the contribution Mauger made to the build-up.

- NZPA

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