By Tom Chick
New Zealand secured a fourth successive IRB Junior World Championship title after full back Beauden Barrett's late try made certain of a 33-22 victory in an enthralling final at the Stadio Plebiscito in Padova on Sunday.
In a repeat of the 2008 and 2009 finals in Wales and Japan, New Zealand once again came out victorious, and extended their unbeaten run in the tournament to 20 matches in the process.
With the teams of 2008, 2009 and 2010 all lifting the trophy there could have been extra pressure on Mark Anscombe’s side but, despite falling 7-0 behind early on, the class of 2011 were able to hold on to a famous victory.
The win means the Baby Blacks are yet to taste defeat in the history of the Under 20 tournament, but they came the closest yet to losing against a physical and competitive England side.
England wing Christian Wade had scored the opening try in the final, his sixth of the tournament, using his speed and power to score in the corner after being freed by centre Owen Farrell.
But New Zealand’s Gareth Anscombe, who ended as the tournament’s leading points scorer and was named man of the match in the final, scored his side’s first points with a penalty moments later, although it could have been more.
Mitchell Scott, under pressure from England prop Henry Thomas, put his foot into touch before touching down in the corner, the ball having gone out wide after captain Luke Whitelock charged down Ben Ransom’s clearance kick.
But it wasn’t long before the Baby Blacks scored their first try. Hooker Codie Taylor showed excellent speed and composure on the wing, bursting down the touchline before finding Charles Piutau for the wing to score his sixth try of the tournament.
Anscombe added the extras and then traded penalties with his opposite number George Ford, the youngest player at JWC 2011, before Ben Tameifuna added the Baby Blacks’ second try, the prop barging his way through the resolute defence to give his side a 20-10 lead at half time.
In the second half Anscombe scored his third penalty, taking him back above South Africa fly half Johan Goosen as the leading points scorer, but England did not wilt and brought the score back to 23-17 with a try by prop Thomas.
Minutes later Matt Kvesic thought he had cut the deficit to a point but the Television Match Official was called upon and it was clear TJ Perenara had managed to get his arm under the ball and prevent the touch down.
A third try did ultimately come when Wade won the race to touch down Elliot Daly’s kick ahead to set up an enthralling finale, but another penalty from the boot of Anscombe and a try from Beauden Barrett secured the fourth straight title.
POST MATCH REACTION
Luke Whitelock, New Zealand captain
"This is awesome to keep the winning streak going, we have been working hard it is great to get the victory. We had to sort out our set pieces, we struggled sometimes but we made opportunities and scored from them which was good.
"England came out well, we defended a lot in the period and they got some early points and build a lot of pressure. We built nicely, it was still far from a top performance but it's finals footy and all that matters is we won.
"We're just really stoked to get the win. It's been a long goal and they made us work really hard for it. We had a great time here in Italy - it's been awesome. Great weather, great people, great history. It's been really good."
Gareth Anscombe, New Zealand fly half and man of the match
"A lot of hard work has gone into this, about seven or eight months we've been together. The Poms rated themselves and fairly so; they're a bloody good side and they pushed us right to the edge there but we dug deep and held on and to hold on in those type of conditions really meant a lot to us. The boys are rapt right row, it's just a surreal feeling."
"We've been pretty lucky with the sort of people that we had present our jerseys. We had Jonah Lomu, John Kirwan, Craig Green, all ex All Blacks. John Kirwan gave us an inspirational speech and drilled into us how much the black jersey means to us, not just back home but over here as well, it's a massive thing. To win and make it four in a row is a huge achievement ... My old man's coach so I guess it's that something a little bit extra special as well."
New Zealand coach Mark Anscombe
"Gareth kicked well today and he played well with the opportunities that came his way. I'm very proud of him. He's had a good season and good tournament for us. It's all part of his development and growth.
"I'm proud of the whole lot of them. They're a good bunch of boys and worked hard for this."
Alex Gray, England captain
"It was a tough battle and I imagine it was quite good watching. We came here thinking we could take it and if things had been different way we could have done, but congratulations to New Zealand, they showed they are a class team and good luck to them."
Rob Hunter, England coach
"I'm immensely proud. I think they gave it a fantastic go and played some really great rugby, and sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you don't get what you want. The great thing was they were prepared to go for it and they were prepared to fail and sometimes when that happens you've just got to get stronger and come back again next time.
"We're terribly disappointed to lose this game. We had opportunities to put ourselves in a good position and they're the fine things that matches are won and lost on. The guys will be much better for the experience and we'll see some of these guys in a white shirt against a black shirt again in the future.
"New Zealand were really strong at the breakdown. We seemed to take a little bit of time to deal with some of the interpretations there and they were very physical in that area and at times that just let them off the hook. We couldn't keep the pressure on because they kept winning some of the small battles."
Sam Cane, New Zealand flanker
"I'm on a real high right now. It's a dream come true. We worked pretty hard for it and fourth time in a row, it's pretty special. We've got a different team, a different group of players and we set our own expectations and to come through with it is unreal.
"England were tough, they didn't give in. They made us really work for it. Credit to them but well done to the boys. We stuck at it and managed to come away with it."
Beauden Barrett, New Zealand try scorer
"Words can't describe it. We've been working hard for six months now. We're all like brothers and to come out with a win at the Junior World Championship is just amazing."