JWC Final: NZ desperate to fulfil potential

(IRB.COM) Sunday 20 June 2010
 JWC Final: NZ desperate to fulfil potential
Julian Savea has tormented defences, scoring eight tries en route to the final - Photo: Martin Seras Lima/IRB



New Zealand have scored 26 tries and conceded just four in reaching the IRB Junior World Championship 2010 final, but somewhat worryingly for their opponents Australia the consensus coming out of the Baby Blacks camp is that they are yet to reach their "full potential".

In fact captain Tyler Bleyendaal, one of the four nominees for the IRB Junior Player of the Year 2010 accolade, insists that New Zealand have not yet - in any match - produced the performance they had targeted, something they will have to put right if they are to beat Australia.

"No, definitely not ... we have fallen short on all occasions I would say," explained Bleyendaal, the 20-year-old hoping to follow in the footsteps of Chris Smith and Aaron Cruden by lifting the trophy. "We have progressed, but we are not where we want to be yet. We have got one more chance I guess and if we can put that performance on the park hopefully we can come out with the trophy.

"It is probably just a lot of handling errors that we have been making so if we can just hang onto the ball and just create phases. It is all pretty simple stuff that we need to tweak, we are just about there. We have got the talent, the players, the forward pack is doing the hard work, so it's just little stuff.

"Australia are a great side with a lot of attacking flair and we are going to have to play well and it is just an exciting prospect. They will play quick, they like to move the ball around and they have got a lot of attacking weapons. We are going to have to defend well and really be on our game, it is just going to be relentless the whole game."

Two in the family?

Flanker Luke Whitelock echoes this sentiment, knowing that it will take an 80-minute performance for the latest crop of Baby Blacks if they are to replicate his older brother Sam's achievement in winning the inaugural Junior World Championship title in 2008.

"At times we've been playing really well but just small things that we think we're not doing properly. We've still got a lot of things to work on and once we do hit those we think we'll be doing quite good," said Whitelock, who recalls getting up in the early hours to watch Sam in that final in Wales.

"Aussie are looking pretty sharp, they're going to test us in a lot more areas and we're going to have to be right on our game to win and these sort of games don't get won at half time at all, it comes down to the 80th minute or later.

"They'll be a lot faster paced game, they throw the ball around a lot more, they've got players that can attack you from anywhere and they've got a mobile forward pack. I think the pace of the game, they've got a really good scrum and stuff like that will be something we will need to be aware of.

"We've definitely got to be on top of our game, it's going to be who wants it more I think on the day and who is more clinical and who executes their opportunities when they come better. I think we are full of confidence in our team, but it's going to be a really hard game."

Biggest challenge yet

The Trans Tasman rivals have only met once before in Junior World Championship history, in last year's semi finals in Japan with the Baby Blacks running out 31-17 winners, and coach Dave Rennie openly admits that Australia will pose a challenge his players have not yet faced in Argentina.

"Australia are quite different [to the sides we played so far]. They're probably similar to us so they're the type of team that will punish you from turnover ball whereas the other sides haven't really played the game so quick," admitted Rennie.

"It's very much a ruck and run game with them and it's probably similar to us. I think we've probably both got ideas of trying to shut down each other's space and deny them time and opportunity hopefully.

"We didn't go as well as we would have liked against South Africa, the first 25 minutes was pretty good but we haven't been able to put our foot on the throat of teams in the last couple of games and we won't be able to do that with Australia.

"I think if we can put in a good performance we've got a chance, but if we turn over the ball as often as we did against South Africa then Aussie will punish us ... I think for the first time we've come up against a team that has the ability to tear us apart.

"We've had a close look at that and we're going to have to be a lot better than we have been so if we can defend well and limit the amount of points they can score, then we don't have to get too many ourselves."

No pressure

Rennie, who has guided New Zealand Under 20s to the two titles and an unbeaten run of 14 matches in the Junior World Championship, has the luxury of naming an unchanged starting line-up from the 36-7 victory over South Africa in the semi finals last Thursday.

The only change comes on the bench, where Richard Haddon replaces Matt Graham. New Zealand, though, will face a settled Australian side which shows only one change from the semi finals with Colby Faingaa returning to the back row after missing two matches with a foot injury.

The Baby Blacks may have won the last two titles, won 14 matches in a row across the three tournaments with a smallest winning margin of 14 points, but Bleyendaal insists he and the squad are not feeling the weight of expectation to preserve that run.

"There is pressure there, but we are kind of not in that mind frame at the moment, we are trying to keep it pretty positive," explained the fly half.

"We know if we can perform well that we have the best opportunity to win that trophy, but if we come off the field with no regrets, that we have put everything on the park that we can and we have played to our potential that is all we can ask for and hopefully that is enough to lift that trophy.

"[To lift the trophy] probably would be the feeling of a lifetime. A lot of hard work has gone into it and all the boys have tried really hard, they have put in a lot of hard work as well and it is just the ultimate feeling I guess - that is the ultimate goal, that is what we have worked hard for for six months now and we will do everything we can to lift it."

Whether or not Bleyendaal gets to experience the "feeling of a lifetime" or not at the Estadio El Coloso del Parque in Rosario on Monday, the final promising to be a spectacle for those in the stadium, watching around the world on television or live on the IRB website.



KO 19:10 LOCAL TIME (08:10 AUS (22 JUN) / 10:10 NZL (22 JUN)