Baby Blacks aiming for own slice of history

(IRB.COM) Saturday 25 June 2011
 Baby Blacks aiming for own slice of history
New Zealand captain Luke Whitelock touches down for a try against Wales - Photo: Getty Images

If New Zealand feel burdened by the weight of history going into Sunday's final against England they certainly don’t show it.

The mood in the camp is one of buoyant good cheer. Relaxed but focused, confident but not complacent as they seek to make it four consecutive IRB Junior World Championship triumphs.

A trip to the team’s training base prior to their semi final win over Australia revealed much about the New Zealanders' approach throughout JWC 2011 in Italy.

There, nestled among the sprawling villas on the outskirts of Treviso, tucked away on a training pitch in the far corner of the Casale Rugby Club grounds, coach Mark Anscombe put his troops through an energetic training session under a hot midday sun.

The training ground is signposted by a Kiwi flag fluttering above an unobtrusive back street. It is an unpretentious venue for the world's most decorated age grade rugby team of recent times, but one in keeping with the low-key, no-frills approach the team's brainstrust maintain.


These might be the future stars of Test rugby but for now they are just a group of young men enjoying each other's company, having the time of their lives in Italy and doing what they do best: winning rugby matches.

When Anscombe calls time on the session, the players immediately form two lines, forwards and backs, urging each other on as they relay their energy drinks down the line in a keenly contested race.

It is indicative of the typically competitive nature of any Kiwi sportsmen and of the obvious camaraderie in the team, who then good naturedly jeer team manager Paul McLaughlin when he grubbers a barefoot penalty attempt.

"The challenge in New Zealand is having had three teams win it, no-one wants to be in the team that doesn’t win it, so they are quite a competitive group,” explained Anscombe.

But the coach is adamant his class of 2011 are determined to make their own history, not merely add a chapter to that of their predecessors, who have won every JWC title going and helped New Zealand to a run of 19 consecutive victories.

"The thing that we have tried to drive with this team is lifting the standard of the bar they need to get to is their standard and no-one else’s and they have got to cut their own path instead of following someone else’s.”

Own challenges

Gareth Anscombe, the tournament's leading points scorer with 68 and a driving force in their semi final win over Australia on Tuesday, remembers the Baby Blacks producing an exceptional display of rugby to overwhelm Australia 62-17 in last year’s final in Argentina.

But like his father, he is not concerning himself with what has happened in the past.

"This side has its own challenges,” the 20-year-old fly half admitted. “We are not looking at previous sides and want to be a better team ourselves, but we have different individuals and want to put in our own performances for 80 minutes.”

Captain Luke Whitelock was part of the team that triumphed in Rosario last year - collecting a winners' medal just as his older brother and now All Black second row Sam did in 2008 - but he also has his sights fixed firmly on the 2011 final.

“It’s a different team, different country, but we’ve all got the same goal,” he said on Friday after posing with the distinctive Junior World Championship trophy alongside England counterpart Alex Gray.

Whitelock expects good conditions at the Stadio Plebiscito in Padova to be conducive to a free-flowing, attacking game.

“With the weather, it’s all ready for an expansive game,” the number 8 said. “The ground’s hard, the conditions are good, so there’s no reason why the play can’t branch out.

Prime condition

“The set piece is going to be a big issue, delivering good ball to the backs, good launching pads, and defence. One of the most crucial things that will win you a World Cup is not allowing points in, playing well and adapting to things.”

"The difference between who wins and loses will be who cashes in on the opportunities.”

Whitelock believes the Baby Blacks will face England in prime condition after two solid workouts, against Argentina in their final pool match and Australia in the semi final, following the record 92-0 win over Wales. Although he is also quick to point out that we haven't yet seen the best of New Zealand in Italy.

“We started off a bit rusty and had another bit of a dull patch but we’re just trying to gather momentum. We want to come with complete clarity amongst our team and make sure we put our best foot forward.

"It was crucial [to be tested by Argentina and Australia]. It brought us back down to earth and made us relook at things and gave us a lot to work on. It helped gain a bit more clarity around the team and develop a bit more momentum coming into the final.

“We’re not too happy with some of our games here. There’s still a lot to improve on and if we can put it all together, we’re still looking for that better performance.

“The boys are really up for it. We’ve seen what [New Zealand] teams have done in the past and the boys are hungry to feel that same sort of victory. No one likes losing and that helps us try a bit more to come home with the cup.”