England Under 20s secured the first objective of their season by securing the Six Nations Grand Slam with a 46-15 defeat of Ireland, a side they will face again this summer at the IRB Junior World Championship 2011.
The two rivals have been drawn in the same pool as South Africa and Scotland at the Championship and England will travel to Italy in early June on the back of comfortable wins over their Six Nations rivals en route to claiming a first title since 2008.
Ireland’s hopes of retaining their title had disappeared after a 26-26 draw with Wales a week earlier and they were behind early on in Athlone after fly half George Ford continued his impressive Six Nations form with two penalties before JJ Hanrahan cancelled one out with an effort of his own.
Jonathan Joseph should have increased England’s advantage when clear only to spill a pass metres from the line, but the visitors did not have long to wait for their first try of the evening, front rowers Mako Vunipola and Henry Thomas combining to send second row Charlie Matthews over the line.
Matthews quickly turned villain with a yellow card and Ireland made the most of their advantage for Shane Buckley to touch down to cut the deficit to 11-10, although England recovered with Ford adding another penalty and converting centre Ryan Mills’ try before the break.
Room for improvement
There was no let up from England in the second half, Ford kicking a penalty before Matt Kvesic barged his way over the line and Mike Haywood touched down to increase the lead to 36-10. Ireland responded with David Doyle’s try just past the hour mark, but any hopes of a remarkable comeback were extinguished by England touch downs from Andy Short and captain Alex Gray.
“One of our season objectives was to win the Grand Slam, and that’s what we’ve done. It’s not us being arrogant, it’s being confident and pushing ourselves to be the best we can,” insisted Ford, the son of England national side defence coach Mike.
“We missed a couple of opportunities to score early on but I knew if we kept playing in the same way we’d create more. We can quite easily be harsh on ourselves and say that we need to be nailing all these chances, but there are a few months until the Junior World Championship starts in Italy and I’m sure we’ll work on our game even further.”
Coach Rob Hunter added: “The whole experience has been fantastic. Lots of players have played very well throughout the tournament and what characterises the team is that each week we have had four or five contenders for the man of the match award.
“That’s driven competition within the team and is why we’re sitting where we are. We had the luxury of making six changes from the Scotland side to face Ireland and it just goes to show the strength we have in depth.”
Hunter has already turned his focus to the first match of the Junior World Championship on 10 June and will be hoping the experiences of this Six Nations success will help England to break New Zealand’s dominance of the prestigious title, the Baby Blacks having beaten England twice and Australia in the previous finals.
France hold on against Wales
Ireland followed up their Six Nations title-winning season with a fourth place finish behind champions England, runners up France and Wales, the latter on point differential after both overcame Italy and Scotland while losing to the Championship’s top two sides.
France confirmed their status as runners up with a 29-22 defeat of Wales in Albi, although they had to withstand a second half fight back from their visitors to end the Six Nations with a record of four victories from their five matches, the only blot on the copybook a 17-9 loss to England in round three.
Les Bleuets captain Jean-Marc Doussain kicked his side into a 9-3 lead with three early penalties, but the hosts were unable to turn the majority of possession they enjoyed into points until wing Marvin O’Connor forced his way over on the half hour.
Fly half Doussain added the conversion but his opposite number Matthew Morgan ensured Wales remained in touch at 16-6 at half time with a penalty to add to his earlier drop goal.
Morgan, who had missed one of the earlier rounds to join Wales Sevens squad at the HSBC Sevens World Series leg in Las Vegas, reduced the deficit further with another penalty, but disaster struck from the restart when Ed Siggery dropped the ball in his 22 and Yann Lesgourgues broke down the blindside to score France’s second try.
If the standout scrum half’s try looked to have edged France closer to victory then Wales had other ideas, Morgan slotting another penalty before the sin-binning of Pierre Julien was followed by a try for wing Harry Robinson, a constant threat for the visitors.
A Jean-Pascal Barraque penalty reasserted France’s lead, but Morgan added one of his own to cut the deficit to seven points with three minutes remaining. Wales still had chance to sneak a draw after marching up field with time up on the clock, but Morgan was stripped of the ball, allowing France to kick to touch and end the match.
Italy end long wait for win
The IRB Junior World Championship takes place in the Veneto Region of Italy from 10-26 June and the hosts could not have received a more timely confidence boost than a first Six Nations win in three years.
Italy, the IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy champions in 2010, had Marco Antonio Gennari’s boot to thank for a tight 9-7 victory over Scotland – the last side they beat in March 2008 – at Bridgehaugh Park on Friday evening.
The defeat leaves Scotland not only with the wooden spoon after five defeats from five, but also the frustration of failing to turn possession and territorial advantage into points after no less than five kicks sailed wide of the uprights.
Scotland started brightly and made their intentions clear early on and were rewarded when Mark Bennett tore up the touchline, leaving the Italian defence in his wake before finding wing Mike Doneghan, who breached the last line of cover to score under the posts.
Gennari got Italy on the scoreboard with a penalty and made no mistake with a second effort to punish the Scots for spilling a ball in midfield to allow the visitors to exert some pressure on their hosts.
The score remained at 7-6 in Scotland’s favour until just past the hour mark, the hosts lacking the composure and clinical edge to turn their visits to the Italian 22 into points, something they were to regret when Gennari booted Italy into the lead for the first time.
Scotland missed two penalties in the closing minutes as the elusive Six Nations win slipped through their fingers, leaving coach Peter Wright hoping his players have learned a valuable lesson in the campaign.
“As I said to the players afterwards, you don’t get many tries at this level s you’ve got to keep the scoreboard ticking over. We didn’t do that and it cost us,” admitted Wright. “We weren’t clinical enough to finish off what we’d created and it’s a harsh lesson for the team about what it takes to win in international rugby.”