Cool heads under pressure. Winning the key moments.
These will be the catch phrases for the All Blacks in the Rugby World Cup playoffs in October, and they can take their lead from an assured display by the New Zealand Under 20s, who annexed their fifth world title with a hard-earned 21-16 victory over England yesterday in Italy.
Committed defence, led by the likes of Blake Gibson and Jack Goodhue, and a moment of Vince Aso magic were key factors in their first triumph at this level since 2011. That class of 2011, captained by Luke Whitelock and coached by Mark Anscombe, beat England 33-22 in the decider in the Italian city of Padova.
Coach Scott Robertson, who performed his breakdancing routine last seen at the 2013 ITM Cup final, revealed the squad had tapped into some World War II history, rich in New Zealanders performing heroic deeds in Italy and Crete, for motivation.
"Our theme this year was the Italian campaign of the second division, which involved the New Zealand Maori Battalion as well, and we used a lot of their themes when they were in Italy. They fought hard and had their final in Trieste. We used that tonight," said Robertson. He was assistant last year when New Zealand lost in heart-breaking fashion to South Africa in the semifinal, after their set-piece and ability to handle high ball pressure, among other areas, was put under the blowtorch. They did their homework, beefed up the pack without losing any of their expansive mindset, and were able to heap all the pressure on England after leading 11-10 at the break. And they did it without huge input from danger wing Tevita Li, whose space in the wider channels was curtailed, and without any breaks from the match officials.
If they had lost, New Zealand would have been within their rights to bemoan another appallingly bad intervention by a match official after No 8 Akira Ioane was sinbinned in the second spell. Upon the recommendation of assistant referee Ben Whitehouse of Wales, he was yellow carded for a no-arms tackle. There was just one problem: he used his arms. A quick check with the TMO, which has often been the default option with referees in this tournament, would have shown this. That option was not used.
England started with fire and brimstone in the pack, and scored through second-five Max Clark. Vince Aso had endured a mixed tournament, but he made an immediate impact as replacement for the injured TJ Faiane. There looked to be nothing on, but Aso made a 35m solo dart to score in the corner. Ioane also ploughed over, and after the last of Otere Black's four goals, New Zealand hung tough for the last 22 minutes.
In other final day action, South Africa had to be content with bronze after beating France 31-18, while Australia clinched fifth position, defeating Wales 28-23.
Home side Italy won a nail-biting 20-19 victory over Samoa to remain in the division for 2016. The loss will be bitter disappointment for Samoa, who looked to have assembled a competitive team.
World pecking order
World Rugby U20 Champs
(Cremona and Viadana, Italy)
Day five results
11-12: Italy 20 Samoa 19
9-10: Argentina 38 Japan 21
7-8: Ireland 17 Scotland 9
5-6: Australia 28 Wales 23
3-4: South Africa 31 France 18
Final: New Zealand 21 (Vince Aso, Akira Ioane tries; Otere Black con, 3 pen) England 16 (Max Clark try; Rory Jennings con, 3 pen) Halftime: 11-10 New Zealand.