New Zealand became the first nation to win the IRB Junior World Championship title with a 38-3 defeat of England in the final at the Liberty Stadium in Swansea on Sunday to crown a wonderful month of rugby in Wales.
Although it was a brave effort from coach Nigel Redman’s side, it was not to be as New Zealand dominated a contest that saw England – who were unbeaten in nine matches in 2008 until today – restricted to a single penalty from the fly half Alex Goode.
A penalty from the full back Trent Renata inside five minutes handed the pre-tournament favourites the initiative, but within 90 seconds of that opening score England should have been level through a Goode penalty.
Unfortunately for the fly half his kick from 20 metres shaved the upright and allowed New Zealand to ultimately clear their lines.
Having beaten Australia and South Africa in their previous two games in this inaugural Under 20 competition and with a Six Nations Grand Slam firmly behind them, England were understandably confident of taking the ultimate scalp.
However Goode was proving to be anything but confident in front of the posts and his second poorly struck penalty shaved the opposite upright, leaving England to ponder what might have been.
Kade Poki, already a Super 14 winner with the Crusaders this year and like many of his team-mates a member of the side that won the last IRB Under 19 World Championship in 2007, made England pay when he scrambled over for a try in the 17th minute.
Renata’s conversion handed the All Blacks a 10-point advantage inside the opening quarter, the try from Poki providing an injection of confidence in the New Zealand backline and from that juncture their free-flowing rugby left the 8,537-strong crowd thoroughly satisfied.
Goode found his range after 25 minutes to reduce the arrears, but such was the New Zealand dominance at the tackle area, that England found it as much as they could do to simply keep them at bay.
To their credit it was a defensive effort that restricted New Zealand to one further first half score, a penalty from the fly half Daniel Kirkpatrick two minutes into stoppage time.
However Renata’s second penalty six minutes after the interval put further daylight between the sides and his third, six minutes later, made the game safe before centre Jackson Willison dived over in the corner for New Zealand’s second try.
New Zealand did have replacement scrum half Aaron Smith sin-binned for not rolling away in the tackle after 65 minutes, but shortly after England were reduced to 14 men when flanker Calum Clark was sent off by referee Peter Fitzgibbon for a headbutt.
There was still more salt to rub into England’s wounds in their first age grade final on the world stage, with replacement Andre Taylor and then Ryan Crotty scoring tries which Man of the Match Kirkpatrick duly converted.
The try put a huge smile on the face of Crotty, the centre having broken his ankle early in the IRB Under 19 World Championship final against South Africa last year and not been present to see Chris Smith lift the trophy that day.
New Zealand Captain Chris Smith: “It is pretty special, it is the first ever one of these tournaments and we came here I think with a lot of pressure from a group of us that won the Under 19 tournament last year and we have always thought that we had a good team, we had a lot of belief throughout the tournament but today I thought we played really well, we didn’t always have the rub of the green, but we backed up superbly and a lot of hard work went into this campaign.
“England today provided a great opposition for us, they were really up for the final and they have done well to get to the final. That was a really hard game and we only really pulled away in the last 20.”
New Zealand Co-Coach Russel Hilton-Jones: “We’ve had to work hard for our results. We’ve probably come home reasonably strongly in all five games we’ve played. I guess the key thing is we’ve worn down sides really well.
“I’m very confident a lot of our players will jump up to the All Black jersey before too long. We’ve got a special group. I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in age-group rugby in New Zealand for six years and this is the best group of players I’ve had dealings with. We have cycles and this is a special cycle of player coming through from this tournament.”
England Head Coach Nigel Redman: "They have been an awesome side now for two years, they won the tournament last year by putting 30-points plus on everyone. We knew it would be a very tough final but I would just like to pay credit to the players of England. We have had to play Australia, South Africa and New Zealand all in a week. We have beaten the first two and today was probably a game too far for us."
England Captain Hugo Ellis: "We went out hard and we started well in the first half. We defended valiantly but the New Zealanders were fantastic in defence. They slowed our ball up, they stopped us gaining any momentum in attack and we struggled a little bit. To go in at the break 13-3 down with a couple of missed opportunities where it could have been tighter, we were still in the game. But in the second half we couldn’t get much together and the New Zealanders ran away with it in the end.”
England Scrum Half Joe Simpson: "I'm gutted. We put in all this work and we only wanted to win but we didn't manage to. New Zealand blew us away so they kind of deserve it at the end of the day but that doesn't help us."
1. New Zealand
3. South Africa