The reliable boot of Freddie Burns once again proved decisive as
England ran out 17-9 winners over France in their Pool B decider at
the Estadio El Coloso del Parque in Rosario to take their place in
the IRB Junior World Championship 2010 semi finals.
Ignoring the wet and windy conditions which saw both sides struggle to control the ball, the England full back calmly slotted three penalties with centre Jamie Gibson scoring the only try of the match on Sunday.
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France, who were bidding to make the Junior World Championship semi finals for the first time, dominated for much of the first half before fly half Jean Marc Doussain kicked a penalty to open the scoring.
With the Jamie George-led side taking a while to find their footing, France managed to hold their opponents scoreless for the first quarter until an indiscretion in front of the posts gave Burns the opportunity to level the scores with a penalty.
Doussain edged France ahead once more, but with both sides eager to finish top of the Pool any attacking play was soon shut down, allowing little opportunity to cross the whitewash and put some distance between them and their rivals.
France came closest to a try in the dying few minutes of the first half when England were penalised for not releasing, giving their opponents a five-metre scrum. However, an outstanding push and drive by centre Remi Lamerat saw him held up over the line.
With his side trailing 6-3 and clearly eager to have his players stamp more authority on the game, England coach Mark Mapletoft quickly brought on forwards Alex Gray and Jacko Wray, along with full back Tom Homer, to inject some impetus.
The tactic worked as England became difficult to stop, producing
wave after wave of attack and frustration finally got the better of
Lamerat when he was sin-binned for a dangerous tackle by referee
England, runners up to New Zealand in the two previous JWC finals, capitalised on their man advantage within minutes, centre Gibson charging up the touchline before stepping inside the French defence to touch down and give his side the lead for the first time.
The cushion could have been extended beyond 11-6 were it not for Homer - who became the all-time top point scorer in Junior World Championship history in the last round - missing two penalties right in front of the posts just past the hour mark.
Gilles Bosch ensured France remained in touch with a 76th minute penalty, but England had the final say with Burns landing a penalty in the dying minutes to deny their opponents even a losing bonus point.
POST MATCH REACTION
England coach Mark Mapletoft: "Tough game,
very tough. The first 50, 60 minutes was a real battle by two teams
that looked quite nervous. At times we combated the French drive
and their pick and go round the fringes well and I think to
restrict a good French side to two penalties was a good return.
"We take nothing away from the French. They defended really well in the first half; made life difficult. We were poor, some of our handling errors were not acceptable, but luckily we managed to stay in it. We've managed to rotate the squad a little bit which at times raised some eyebrows. We made ten changes against Ireland and again today. We wanted to win the games and at the same time make sure we were fresh. So far we've won the games and stayed fresh. Whether we are good enough to go any further we'll see."
England captain Jamie George: "It was a tough
game but we always knew it was going to be that against a strong
French side, they broke us down well but showing the heart we
showed in that game was a massive thing ahead of the semi final and
we've got to take confidence from that.
"Our line got broken a couple of times but French teams with their flair are always going to do something like that. We stuck to our systems and played the game we wanted to play, we improved on the mistakes we were making in the first half and I'm massively proud of the boys".
France coach Philippe Boher: "Our players had
a good game. We had a strong defence and the spirit was kept until
the final whistle but we made some mistakes that gave England their
win. Playing with 14 men was expensive to us as they scored a try
and a penalty.
"I think France had three different games. The first saw our attacking strength; in the second we had an interesting first half against Argentina in which we scored four tries in 20 minutes and today we had a good defence but had faults that cost us the game."