England remain on course to clinch the RBS Under 20 Six Nations Grand Slam after beating France 19-8 on a weekend which also saw Ireland shut out Scotland 15-0 and Wales run out 46-15 winners over Italy.
The only unbeaten sides remaining in the 2011 competition came face to face at Sixways on Sunday, both eager to continue building momentum in the countdown to the IRB Junior World Championship in Italy this summer.
England and France had both impressed in racking up the points in their two previous meetings, but with fly half George Ford dictating play and the forwards playing their part too it was the hosts who went in with a comfortable 19-0 advantage at the break.
Ford opened the scoring with an early penalty and then converted wing Jamie Elliott’s try, before punishing French indiscretion with three further penalties to the delight of the home crowd.
France brought the challenge to England more in the second half with captain Jean-Marc Doussain kicking a penalty before the visitors got more reward for their efforts with a scrambled try in the corner at the hour mark.
There was to be no amazing recovery for the visitors though with England sparking back into life and going close to increasing their cushion after some good breaks from Ford and wing Elliot Daly, who had scored four tries against Italy last time out.
“France were tough today – they were physical, but I think we rose to the challenge. We’re pleased to be in this position, three wins from three is exactly what we wanted and we’ve achieved it but there’s still an awfully long way to go,” said coach Rob Hunter.
“We’re over the half way point in our 6 Nations campaign and it’s gone very well so far. It’s hard not to be happy with three from three but I’m particularly satisfied with the exceptionally high standards that the lads set out for themselves.”
Missed opportunities for Scotland
Scotland, meanwhile, were left frustrated after being shut out 15-0 by defending champions Ireland to leave them still searching for a win in this year’s Six Nations, having now conceded almost 100 points and scored just eight in three matches.
Beaten heavily by France and Wales, Peter Wright’s side could at least feel a little aggrieved to have got nothing from the match at the Tulloch Caledonian Stadium in Inverness on Friday after seeing two tries ruled out by referee Ian Tempest.
The first was compounded when Ireland turned the ball over, marched up field and after a series of pick and goes captain Niall Annett found a gap in the Scottish defence to barrel his way over the line.
Another try went begging with lively number 8 James Tyas ruled to have been held up over the line, and once again Ireland made their hosts pay, asserting their power in the scrum to leave referee Tempest with no option but to award a penalty try.
Scotland were unable to get on the scoreboard in the second half with captain Harry Leonard missing two penalties, the only score coming from a Paddy Jackson penalty as Ireland bounced back from a disappointing loss to France a fortnight earlier.
“It’s a disappointing result because the game was there to be won,” admitted Scotland coach Wright, whose side will meet Ireland again in the pool stages of the IRB Junior World Championship in June.
“We defended very well, particularly in the second half, but if you give away soft tries then you’re going to struggle. You can’t keep defending for the whole game, we need more go forward, but this is a young team, they’ve learned some harsh lessons and are facing that challenge.”
Wales too strong for Italy
Italy, the JWC 2011 hosts, are the only other side without a victory in the Under 20 Six Nations, having conceded six tries to lose 46-15 to Wales at the Stadio Comunale San Vito in Cosenza on Friday evening.
Fly half Matthew Morgan, back in the line-up after missing the Scotland win to play for Wales at the USA Sevens in Las Vegas, stole the show with a 21-point haul from a try, five conversions and two penalties, but it was the Welsh pack which laid the foundations for the win.
Wales raced into a 17-0 lead with tries from Owen Williams and Morgan, but things took a turn for the worse with prop Will Taylor sent off for a headbutt.
Guglielmo Palzzani managed to get Italy on the board with his third penalty attempt of the night, only for prop Rob Evans to power his way over the line to increase Wales’ lead within minutes.
Italy scored their first try just as half time approached through Leonardo Sarto, but any hopes of a revival were dispelled with Williams, hooker Kirby Myhill and Joseff Griffin touching down for Wales.
Wednesday marks 100 days to go until the IRB Junior World Championship kicks off on 10 June with England, France et al hoping to unlock the secret to end New Zealand’s dominance of the prestigious Under 20 tournament.
The penultimate round of the Six Nations will pit Scotland against another side they will face at JWC 2011 in England, while Ireland travel to Wales and Italy host a French side who will be eager to bounce back from the disappointment of losing to England.