It’s the power and size of England against the flair and flamboyance of Aotearoa New Zealand that has set up the perfect final at the IRB TOSHIBA Junior World Championship 2009 in Japan. It’s the Guinness Premiership versus Super 14, the colonials meet the natives and with pride at stake, this should be a terrific finale for the 2009 event.
The English side would have to be one of the tallest and heaviest in the history of Age Grade tournaments. A terrific platform upfront with props like Bob Baker and Ben Moon, the tall timber of Dan Williams, James Gaskell, Courtney Lawes and captain Calum Clark has proved to be formidable in the pool stages and semi final against South Africa.
It is from this solid and clinical foundation that livewire half back Ben Youngs has rewarded the big units upfront with clever kicking and reliable service. Hard running midfielders Luke Eves and Henry Trinder are assisted through the reliable boot of full back Tom Homer.
This is a well drilled and coached side that in my view has yet to reach its potential and hasn't been tested. In the pool stages they man handled Japan, Scotland and Samoa. The semi final against the rainbow nation South Africa showed frailties in their set piece losing four lineouts in good attacking positions, deficiencies in their backplay with lateral movement and very little net gain and of greater concern was the inability to score tries.
The mental application or top two inches would be the only other concern and shouldn't exist when the thought of revenge from last year’s humiliating 38-3 loss by New Zealand in Swansea is mentioned to seven of that 2008 squad who have returned for a second shot at the title.
The Baby Blacks have been slow starters over the last three weeks with their forwards’ body positions being too high. They have been tested in every match from Uruguay to Ireland, Argentina to Australia because of their title as world champs and to their credit they have responded through their superior fitness and conditioning in the second halves.
Up front Willie Ioane, Ma'afu Fia and Latu Talakai, along with hookers Brayden Mitchell and Shae Tamati, will need to be accurate and rely on guile and technique. Leighton Price, Shahn Eru and Alex Ryan have all had game time but will need to be smart in the lineouts and work more on beating their opposite numbers on the ground before they get in the air.
The gamble to play two openside flankers against the bigger Australian pack in the semis proved to be the difference with Bendon O'Connor and Berny Hall dominating the breakdown and retained possession battle.
This is one area where I think New Zealand have an advantage over England and the tactical game plan by half back Frae Wilson and first five Aaron Cruden should keep the men in white guessing. The other positions of superiority from what I've observed over the tournament is the midfield and outside backs that coach Dave Rennie has selected in every match.
Winston Stanley, like his uncle former All Black Smokin Joe, has delivered go forward momentum at critical stages and the other Super 14 player Zac Guildford must get ball in hand early. Nafi Tuitavake has played in the IRB Sevens this year and the positional awareness and attacking prowess of Robbie Robinson will pose problems for Mark Mapletoft’s young men.
It will be the best forward pack of England against the best attacking backline of New Zealand. In Japan, a country where everything runs to the second, it could come down to just the one nano moment that determines who will be crowned junior global leaders for 2009.
Finally, on a personal note can I take the opportunity to congratulate the IRB for delivering another superb Age Grade Championship. A fascinating statistic that was given to me from NZ, since the year 2000 an amazing 46 Kiwis have gone on to play for the All Blacks and I have no doubt that some of the talent we have seen here will represent their country in 2011 or 2015.
Uruguay’s Martin Etcheverry and Andres Specker and Argentina's Santiago Guzman and Joaquin Tuculet stood out. South Africa’s Marnus Schoeman and Francois Brummer, Italians Eduardo Gori and hooker Andrea Manichi, while Fiji's captain Kini Murimrivalu and Kolinio Vunaki wouldn't look out of place in their Sevens team.
French half back Florian Cazenave and captain Alexandre Lapandry, Australians Robert Simmons, Andrew Shaw and Peter Betham, Samoa's Rayhan Laulala and Tautalafua Mataafa and finally Scotland’s Fraser Brown and Richie Gray are destined for higher honours.
** Watch New Zealand take on England in the IRB TOSHIBA Junior World Championship 2009 Final live and on-demand for free on Sunday 21 June. The final kicks off at the Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium in Tokyo at 15:00 local time after the third place play-off between Australia and South Africa. **
Click here for more details >>
** You can also watch on-demand the two semi finals - New Zealand v Australia and England v South Africa **
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