Starmers: NZ Juniors a cut above the rest

(IRB.COM) Monday 28 June 2010
 Starmers: NZ Juniors a cut above the rest
According to Nigel Starmer-Smith, all the other sides have a huge mountain to climb to close the gap on New Zealand at Under 20 level

The dust has now settled on the IRB Junior World Championship 2010, the teams have returned home from Argentina, New Zealand with the silverware again after an impressive display that tore Australia apart in the final ... where else for renowned commentator Nigel Starmer-Smith to start his look back at the prestigious Under 20 event.

Watching New Zealand's finest young players was certainly impressive and it was also very sobering.

I think we saw an awesome performance and we saw a team that was a class and a half above anybody else in the tournament, and by that I mean it was sobering because it just shows what every other team has now got to aspire to.


To see a team just completely outplay Australia and score over 60 points is quite exceptional in a final of a world championship of any kind. I thought we saw a brand of rugby that actually was ahead of even the international senior teams at the moment - it was spectacular.

You knew about and expected the efficiency, the discipline, the power of a New Zealand side at any level but this one had some extra ingredients - I thought they were a far stronger and better all round outfit than the two Junior World Championship winning sides of the past two years.

The thing that impressed me most I think was up front and I don't mean the traditional strength of set piece for the New Zealand forwards, but it was the other less well known qualities, particularly the mobility of the pack and the handling of the pack.

There were a couple of instances which I will never forget. One was the prop forward Jeff Allen picking up a ball with one hand like a Fijian in a Sevens tournament. Another was a very big second row forward Blade Thompson giving the perfectly weighted pass for a try to be scored by his winger.

It was those little touches. The consistency of their performance - you had a player like Moli who has to be seen as a future All Black for sure, playing absolutely non-stop, he was everywhere, agile as a back row forward, he was skilful in handling, his tight play was tremendous, his play in the loose - absolutely outstanding.

Streets ahead

I just thought they were an exceptional side. We praised the Baby Blacks' last two Junior World Championship winners to the skies, this one is up in the stratosphere somewhere, I just thought it was a magnificent performance because Australia were no mean team - they beat England pretty convincingly in the semi final - but we saw a team that just left Australia behind and my goodness there is a lot of talent in that team.

I think the way they played it, the confidence with which they started set a standard for rugby that everybody should really see as a classic - buy the video, look at it, show it to the kids, show it to the senior players and say this is what we've got to aim for.

It's hard to see someone beating them because at the moment they are light years ahead and I think anyone would recognise that. At the moment it's like you have got one team way out at the top, you've then got Australia, France, Argentina, South Africa, England perhaps next in line and then another gulf down to the bottom few.

Clearly it's not going to happen overnight and I don't think it's going to happen within in a year because as we've seen this New Zealand strength and ability at this Under 20 level has happened over a few years.

Why there's such a divide, I don't know. Maybe it's something to do with the maturity of New Zealand players: they look like full blown senior All Blacks in the Under 20s, other teams seem like lads who are just recently out of school or are university students. Maybe I think it's something to do with the way they live, their background, their personal development, the intensity of their training and the fact that the Baby Blacks is seen as a pathway to a great career, stardom, and a good living. It's to do with the motivation and the fact they do seem to mature more quickly and do seem like men against boys.

So, to the coach Dave Rennie I give great credit. It's not by chance and not just because he's got great talent that he has moulded a team that one year scores 30 something in the final, the next scores 40 something in the final and this year scores over 60.

A great credit to him and he's clearly a man who can not only see talent but can blend it into a unit and that's what we had in Argentina, unit play, back row, front five, half backs, backs, tremendous all round and great credit to the coach.

Coming soon..... Nigel Starmer-Smith casts his eye over the key men who made New Zealand tick at the IRB Junior World Championship, including one giant wing he's already compared with Jonah Lomu…