A player or team can often look back and pinpoint a defining moment in a match or tournament and if England go on to win a first ever IRB Junior World Championship 2011 title then captain Alex Gray will not have to think twice for his.
“Right at the end of the South Africa game,” was his immediate response.
“When they were one try away from taking it from us and there were a couple of last-ditch tackles that kept us in the game and again proved how much we want to work for each other and how much this competition means to the group.”
Gray scored in that 26-20 win over South Africa which confirmed England as Pool C winners and condemned the Baby Boks to the fifth to eight place play-offs and is now within touching distance of “a dream come true” and lifting the coveted Junior World Championship trophy.
VIDEO: JWC 2011 FINAL PREVIEW
However, the number 8 knows that England will face a massive challenge to do what no-one has ever managed to do in 19 previous Junior World Championship matches dating back to the inaugural tournament in 2008 – beat New Zealand.
Two of those victories have come against England – 38-3 in the 2008 final in Wales and 44-28 a year later in the title decider in Japan – but Gray insists that the class of 2011 are ready to address that record.
“The mood is really high, you don’t get days like we’re going to have on Sunday very often,” admitted Gray. “We’re not leaving anything to chance, we create our own luck we believe.
“We’ve been working hard since September for this. We’ve been together a long time, a lot of the players have known each other since they were 17 or 18, we’ve all come through together and it really means a lot to us in the group.
“I can’t say how much it means, but the players will definitely show that on Sunday.
“I’m expecting a really tough encounter. There’s nothing to lose now, there’s no tomorrow for both teams. We’re just going to go out there tooth and nail, and whoever can keep calm, whoever can give everything will come away with the win.”
One game to make it count
The talk may all have been of New Zealand’s impressive record in age grade rugby in recent years, but England have their own unbeaten record they are in no mood to surrender, having won all nine matches under coach Rob Hunter in 2011.
“There’s a lot to play for but I’m sure both teams are just thinking records, yesterday’s games, they don’t mean anything now,” reasoned Gray, who led England to the Under Six Nations Grand Slam earlier this year.
“There’s one game to prove who’s the best team in the world and that’s what both teams are going for. You can’t live on what you’ve done yesterday or in the past because you’ve got one game to make it count.”
A sentiment echoed by his coach Hunter. “I think it’s a huge driver for the lads. This team has not been to a final, just the same as the New Zealanders are new, albeit they’ve got a great record in this competition.
“The team changes every year, so there’ll be quite a lot of pressure on them because I am sure they won’t want to be the first team to lose, but by the same token we’d love to be the first team to win.”
Talent all over the park
Hunter, who was assistant coach to Mark Mapletoft when England finished fourth last year, knows only too well that his young charges will have to be on their game if they are to stand a chance of beating New Zealand and not suffer a crushing defeat.
“As we’ve said before all the games, you’ll get thumped in this competition if you don’t turn up in the right frame of mind. We’re not happy just to be at the final, we want to win the tournament, but we’re under no illusion as to how tough that will be.
“There are not a lot of weaknesses across the New Zealand team. I’m sure they’ve been analysing us to death as well. It’s an incredibly good match-up up front, we’ve both got really good half backs and some very exciting runners in the half backs.”
There are interesting match ups all over the park, with Gray and Hunter both joking you could spend all day talking about the key battles that could decide whether New Zealand claim a fourth successive title or England their first.
“It’s definitely going to start in the forwards,” admitted Gray. “They’ve got a good pack that will win some good ball, but at the same time we’ve got a good pack, a big pack that work hard and we’ve got a good set piece as well.
“Both teams are equally matched. We’ve got good people who can finish, they’ve obviously got people who can finish. We’ve got players who can pull strings for us, George Ford, Owen Farrell, Ryan Mills. It’s the same for them.
VIDEO: FORD AND ANSCOMBE, PULLING THE STRINGS FOR FINALISTS
“There’s going to be match-ups all over the park, you could talk all day about it. It’s just going to be a really tough Test match that will be good to watch for everyone.”
“A couple of people have been saying that [this could be the best final yet]. The good thing about finals is that anything can happen. What I can assure you is going to be on show is two great teams who are just giving everything.
“In any sport, in any type of game, with two teams that aren’t going to let anything slip, you are going to see a great game. People are going to be going for it and I suppose that’s just the nature of rugby and the nature of sport.”
Hunter added: “I think it will be a cracker. I think it will be close, it will be pretty tough. The guys have had four tough matches in the build-up to this and it’s the last time they are going to be together as well and they’ll want to go out with a bang.”
FIND OUT HOW THE TWO FINALISTS STACK UP STATISTICALLY SPEAKING >>