Mapletoft: England side is fitter than ever
By Tracey Porter
England coach Mark Mapletoft has fired the opening salvo ahead of their IRB Junior World Championship semi final with Australia on Thursday, warning that his squad is in the best shape any of those he's worked with have ever been at this stage of the tournament.
Mapletoft has already overseen wins over Argentina (48-22), Ireland (36-21) and France (17-9) as England topped Pool B and admits his coaching staff were in the enviable position of being able to put their strongest side on the paddock with all 26 fit for selection.
"We've managed to win our pool games whilst rotating the players around and I think they're all pretty fresh," Mapletoft told IRB.com. "All the stats we've done show that we're probably fresher than we've ever been with the group of players at this stage, which is great. We certainly won't lack for freshness and we won't lack for fitness."
The two nations have met only once before in the Junior World
Championship, back in the inaugural tournament in Wales in 2008
when a late Miles Benjamin try saw England win 17-13 to pip
Australia to a semi final place.
However, Mapletoft concedes that both sides will carry significant baggage into the Estadio El Coloso del Parque in Rosario with England eager to prove they can match the southern hemisphere attacking prowess after losing two finals to New Zealand and Australia desperate to reach a first JWC final.
"Both teams have got nothing to lose," insisted the former England international, who will step down as England Under 20 coach after the Championship to take up a post with English Premiership club Harlequins.
"We have done really well to reach the finals and possibly Australia feel they have under achieved. I saw a Matt Toomua article the other day where he said he felt very disappointed after last year [when Australia finished fourth] so they'll have no less incentive I think than to push on and reach the final."
England full back Tom Homer, who became the Junior World Championship's all-time leading point scorer with a 21-point haul against Ireland in round two, echoes his coach's sentiments and believes the difference between winning and losing will come down to two things - defensive effort and handling errors.
"I think they're probably just a level up on our group matches so they'll be a lot more fast and furious and perhaps more physical and probably make less mistakes and stuff," said Homer, who returns to the starting line up for the semi final.
"We've really got to be on top of our game if we're going to win this one.
"Obviously in last year's semi [when England beat South Africa 40-21] we were very conservative in the first half and it was a pretty close score line then, but eventually the boys just relaxed, enjoyed themselves and started playing the way we want to play and we pulled away a bit.
"Hopefully the same thing will happen this time around. We obviously don't want to take 20 minutes to get into it. It's obviously an 80-minute game and I think this one will certainly be played up to the 80th minute."
Mapletoft and Homer both agree that the Pool C decider between Australia and fellow semi finalist South Africa last Sunday had offered a unique insight into their opponent's style of play and was one occasion when the quick turnaround between matches may favour one side over another.
"It was one of the best matches we've seen in the Junior World Championship - very free flowing, a lot of great attack and some really good tries," admitted Mapletoft.
"But it was probably in stark contrast to our game against France which was far more defence-oriented, far more attritional and perhaps reflective in some ways possibly of the way the game is played within the two hemispheres and we're going to have to react to that - but equally so are they."
Mapletoft is happy that his charges did not have to relocate to Rosario like the other semi finalists, England having been based in the city for their Pool matches, a factor he thinks may prove advantageous with them already familiar with the stadium and the conditions.
"We're certainly going to have to try and stop them playing without a doubt, but that doesn't mean we're not going to play ourselves," Mapletoft admitted.
"They clearly have a lot of strike power but I think as all teams will do we'll do a bit of analysis, probably not too much, but just look at what they do, where they start from and where they're strong. You've got to try and negate that whilst at the same time not taking your eye off the ball in terms of what you want to do.
"I'm sure they'll be the same. They'll want to keep playing but at the same time be mindful of perhaps where we're strong. So, yeah, I'm fairly confident that the best team will win. Hopefully it's us but if it's not then we will know we've given it our best."