As the year draws to a close, we take a look back at the IRB Junior World Championship in Argentina.
That the silverware remained in New Zealand’s hands for a third year in a row was perhaps not all that surprising given their recent dominance of age grade rugby, but the manner of their title-clinching victory over Australia at the Estadio El Coloso del Parque in the Argentine city of Rosario in late June was totally unexpected.
The Baby Blacks produced an exceptional display of rugby to destroy an Australian Under 20 side with no shortage of talent, crossing for seven tries in a dominant 62-17 victory which left renowned commentator Nigel Starmer-Smith to describe them as “up in the stratosphere somewhere” in comparison to New Zealand’s two previous IRB Junior World Championship winning squads.
They possessed all the qualities traditionally associated with New Zealand squads at any age, but it was their strength and skill levels across the park that stood out, alongside the mobility and handling of their forward pack, their consistent performances and the confidence they had in each other to realise their goal of winning the prestigious tournament.
This confidence stemmed from a ‘Wolf Pack’ philosophy adopted by the whole squad and the saying that ‘the strength of the pack is the wolf and the strength of the wolf is his pack’. Put simply every player knew that there was always someone who had his back, always someone to pick him up after a mistake with the ‘Join the Pack’ call, all of which helped to create their own family on tour.
VIDEO: HIGHLIGHTS OF JWC 2010 FINAL >>
Few people, though, would have been brave enough to predict such a runaway victory, even after Pool A winners New Zealand had brushed aside the challenge of South Africa 36-7 in the semi finals. Not least because Australia had been equally impressive in denying England a third successive final appearance only days after beating the Baby Boks 42-35 in a truly enthralling Pool C decider in Santa Fe.
Both finalists had played some great free-flowing rugby along the way and a youthful Australian side under the guidance of David Nucifora, and featuring a number of players with IRB Sevens World Series experience, were expected to truly test the Baby Blacks. In reality, New Zealand never looked like ending a 14-match winning run in the Championship after hooker Liam Coltman touched down just 33 seconds into the final with Australia unable to get out of their own half for long periods.
Captain Tyler Bleyendaal, just like his predecessor Aaron Cruden 12 months previously, pulled the strings with another impressive display at fly half, creating two tries for teammates and scoring one of his own in a 28-point haul before limping off just past the hour mark having become the tournament’s leading point scorer in the process.
Tries from Tom Marshall, Sean Polwart and a hat-trick from Telusa Veainu gave New Zealand a victory margin that in no way flattered them, but Australia deserve credit for the way they refused to just throw in the towel and admit defeat as the scoreboard ticked over, instead continuing to play the brand of rugby that had served them so well to that point.
It was also a fitting send off for New Zealand coach Dave Rennie, who has overseen all three successes and admitted afterwards it was “pretty close” to a perfect performance. There was another reason for the Baby Blacks to celebrate with wing Julian Savea named IRB Junior Player of the Year 2010 following an impressive tournament where at times he was unstoppable on the way to equalling Zac Guildford’s record of eight tries in a single Championship.
Rhys Ruddock's debut means all 17 Unions to play on the JWC stage have capped a graduate
Guildford and Cruden have already graduated to the All Blacks ranks in the last year as the Championship continues to provide an important stepping stone, reaching a significant milestone when Rhys Ruddock’s debut for Ireland – having been called up from the Under 20 squad in Argentina – against Australia in June meant that all 17 nations to have played in the tournament had given at least one JWC graduate their senior test debut.
The tournament, though, is about more than just unearthing the next generation of world stars and will certainly have left its mark on the rugby communities in the Litoral region of Argentina with fans attending matches in their tens of thousands across the three venues in Rosario, Santa Fe and Paraná and creating an atmosphere to savour with their enthusiasm.
None more so than in Rosario during the pool stages when 16,000 people turned up to see Argentina take on England in their opening Pool B match, creating a cacophony of noise to try and inspire Los Pumitas to victory. The results may not have gone their way with defeats against England and France, but they finally had something to celebrate after beating Ireland 24-21.
This victory guaranteed Argentina’s place in the 2011 Championship and left them fighting for fifth to eighth place, an improvement on 11th last year. It also earned them a meeting with Pool A runners-up Wales, one that would go down in the history books as the first to be decided by a kicking competition after sudden-death extra-time could not break the 19-19 deadlock.
It came down to a battle of nerves with Fernando Luna proving Argentina’s hero when he slotted the winning kick moments after Rhys Downes had missed for Wales with the shootout tied at 8-8. Los Pumitas, though, had to settle for sixth place after losing to France for the second time in a tournament, while Wales again proved too strong for Fiji in the seventh place play-off in Santa Fe.
Tonga's win condemned Samoa to relegation to the IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy in 2011
South Africa, meanwhile, bounced back from the disappointing loss to New Zealand to match their previous finishes of third with a 27-22 defeat of England in Rosario thanks to tries from Nico Scheepers, his early replacement Sibusiso Sithole (2) and their impressive full back Patrick Lambie.
Ireland and Scotland went into the final day without any pressure after overcoming Samoa and Tonga respectively on day four to leave the islanders to battle over relegation to the IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy in 2011. Ireland, as Six Nations champions, had arrived with higher expectations than ninth, but after a disappointing pool phase they did finish strongly with a 53-23 defeat of Scotland.
There was to be no happy ending for Samoa, though, after they ended the tournament as the only side without a win, losing the must-win encounter with Tonga 23-3 in Paraná to finish 12th and be relegated to the Trophy next year. Their place will be taken the 2010 Trophy winner and Junior World Championship 2011 hosts Italy, who will join the other 10 nations in trying to find a way to stop New Zealand claiming a fourth title in a row.
05/06/2010 - New Zealand 44-11 Fiji
05/06/2010 - Wales 22-13 Samoa
09/06/2010 - Wales 31-3 Fiji
09/06/2010 - New Zealand 77-7 Samoa
13/06/2010 - New Zealand 43-10 Wales
13/06/2010 - Samoa 12-15 Fiji
05/06/2010 - France 25-22 Ireland
05/06/2010 - Argentina 22-48 England
09/06/2010 - England 36-21 Ireland
09/06/2010 - Argentina 23-31 France
13/06/2010 - England 17-9 France
13/06/2010 - Argentina 24-21 Ireland
05/06/2010 - South Africa 40-14 Tonga
05/06/2010 - Australia 58-13 Scotland
09/06/2010 - Australia 67-5 Tonga
09/06/2010 - South Africa 73-0 Scotland
13/06/2010 - Scotland 27-3 Tonga
13/06/2010 - South Africa 35-42 Australia
17/06/2010 - Ireland 37-10 Samoa
17/06/2010 - Scotland 28-8 Tonga
17/06/2010 - Wales 19-19 Argentina – Argentina win 9-8 after kicking competition
17/06/2010 - France 44-9 Fiji
17/06/2010 - Australia 28-16 England
17/06/2010 - New Zealand 36-7 South Africa
21/06/2010 - Samoa 3-23 Tonga
21/06/2010 - Ireland 53-23 Scotland
21/06/2010 - Wales 39-15 Fiji
21/06/2010 - Argentina 23-37 France
21/06/2010 - England 22-27 South Africa
21/06/2010 - Australia 17-62 New Zealand
1. New Zealand
3. South Africa
12. Samoa (Relegated to IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy 2011)
Taken from the IRB World Rugby Yearbook 2011 - Click here to buy your copy >>