England Under 20s achieved what their senior counterparts so spectacularly failed to do a day later by claiming a Six Nations title on Welsh soil following an impressive 28-15 win at Parc Eirias in Colwyn Bay.
The victory provided Exeter-bound head coach Rob Hunter with the perfect send-off and also ruined Wales’ own hopes of a first Grand Slam at Under 20 level.
In an evenly poised contest, two tries from flanker Harry Wells and one from wing Jack Nowell gave England the win and an unprecedented third straight title. Henry Slade added 13 points with the boot.
Wales fly half Sam Davies had kept his side in touch throughout with five penalties, the first of which came after a dominant opening 10 minute spell.
But England hit back with the first of their three tries on the night, a break from scrum half Callum Braley freeing up space for recently named LV= Cup Breakthrough Player of the Year Nowell to score in the corner.
Slade missed the conversion and a subsequent penalty attempt and England were punished twice more by the boot of Davies as Wales led 9-5 after half an hour. Slade made no mistake with his third attempt at goal – a long-range effort from just inside his own half – to narrow the gap to a single point.
Just as half-time approached England breached Wales’s line again, Wells justifying England’s decision to kick a penalty to the corner rather than go for goal with the first of two close-range tries. Slade added the extras to make the interval scoreline 15-9 to England.
Dream come true for Clifford
Wales started the second half as they had the first by taking the game to their great rivals, and the pressure was eventually rewarded via Davies’ fourth penalty.
With number 8 Ieuan Jones re-entering the fray following a spell in the sin-bin either side of half-time, Wales sensed the opportunity to regain the lead for the third time in the match.
But Slade hit back with a penalty and increased the gap to nine with a drop goal. Davies’ fifth and final penalty meant the game was still in the balance going into the final quarter, but Wells’ second try from a driving maul, again converted by Slade, saw England home.
“It’s a massive achievement and the guys deserve all the credit – they’re a hard working group and this trophy is their reward for the work that they have put in. Wales gave it a real go and full credit to them, we never felt comfortable,” said Hunter, who coached England to the IRB Junior World Championship 2011 final.
Captain Jack Clifford added: “I’m so happy for all of the boys and all of the management, everyone works so hard and to end up with this trophy as captain is a dream come true. Massive credit to the Welsh though, at no point did we feel like the game was won until the final whistle blew.”
A disappointed Wales coach Danny Wilson is already looking ahead to JWC 2013. "We made some poor decisions tonight but against some much better opposition, we'll now look forward to the Junior World Cup. After this loss, there's plenty to look forward to and lots of positives to take."
While England will head to JWC 2013 in great heart, their opening day opponents on 5 June – tournament hosts France – endured a disappointing RBS Under 20 6 Nations campaign, including a 40-10 loss to the eventual champions in round three.
Runners-up for the last two years, France could only muster two wins and were only kept off the bottom of the table by Italy, the only one of the six sides not looking ahead to the Junior World Championship but rather the sister IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy in Chile.
Late rallies from France and Ireland
At least France ended on a high, ending a run of three successive defeats after eight points from fly half Enzo Selponi helped them to a tight 13-10 victory over Scotland on Sunday.
Trailing 10-3 at half-time, Selponi's kick and chase try – converted by Yohan Domenech – and his 64th-minute drop goal, alongside an early penalty from scrum half Baptiste Serin, handed France the points despite a late Scotland onslaught.
Italy managed to avoid an unwanted whitewash by holding Ireland Under 20s to a draw in L’Aquila, but the Azzurrini would have been hoping for so much more when leading by 15 points with 25 minutes to go.
Outscored by four tries to one up until that point Ireland managed to raise themselves and produce their second dramatic comeback of the tournament.
Having snatched a one-point victory over eventual winners England in round two, Ireland started another ‘great escape’ mission when second row Jerry Sexton powered over for their second try of the match.
A second penalty from Rory Scannell closed the gap even further before the centre, who had taken over the kicking duties from injured midfield partner Tom Daly, kept his nerve to convert Rory Scholes’ late try and earn Ireland a share of the spoils.
The 25-25 draw saw Ireland finish third in the table in a campaign that could have gone either way, as four of their five fixtures were settled by a margin of two points or less, the exception being a 22-5 win over France in the penultimate round.