Wales could be forgiven for having a touch of déjà vu as they prepare for the IRB Junior World Championship 2013 final against England on Sunday, having already faced their neighbours in one title decider already this year.
Three months ago the teams met at a wet Parc Eirias with Wales going for the Under 20 Six Nations Grand Slam and England knowing that victory would see them pip their hosts to the title on point differential.
England ran out 28-15 winners that night in Colwyn Bay and the pain of that defeat has been driving the Welsh squad ever since, determined as they are not to experience that heartbreak of falling again at the final hurdle.
“It was disappointing for us to go unbeaten all the way through the Six Nations and then to come unstuck against England was really hard to take, but I think it will fuel us going into this game,” admitted captain Ellis Jenkins.
“It will be an extra bit of motivation on the fact that we have gone unbeaten through this tournament again and it’s England standing in our way of a World Cup.
“We have beaten some great teams but it’s going to take another huge performance from all the boys, one last effort from everyone ... it’s going to take everything we have got.”
VIDEO: Commentator Wyn Gruffydd previews the JWC 2013 final
Jenkins, the understudy to British & Irish Lions captain Sam Warburton at the Cardiff Blues, admits that his side “just panicked a bit” that day but believes the variety they have shown at JWC 2013 will make them better prepared for this title decider.
“During this competition we have had to change our strategy a bit due to the teams we have been playing against as they all offered very different things,” added Jenkins.
“I think that gives us more variety going into the final knowing we can change if needs be and that we have got a lot of things we can throw at England if other things are not working.
“I definitely think that will work in our favour as you need an all-around game to beat England, they haven’t got many weaknesses so we will have to be on top of our game as well.
“England are not in the final for nothing, they are a great team and a physical team and we are just going to have to match them physically and mentally and be willing to go further than them to take the trophy.”
While the Welsh willingly talk of the lessons they learned that wet night in Colwyn Bay, Jenkins’ counterpart Jack Clifford insists England do not want to look backwards because the two matches will be “completely incomparable”.
A huge rivalry
“It’s a completely different tournament, it’s been a long time since that game so they have changed and have done more training and will have new moves and things like that so we can’t look at that game,” explained Clifford.
“It’s a completely different game and tournament and we are just looking at it as a new Wales team, and it’s a final so you can’t compare other games to it when it comes down to a World Cup final.
“Obviously there will be more pressure but just because it’s a final, we will try and put that to the back of our mind and just think of it as any other game, just go out and stick to our processes, play our game and play to the best of our ability.”
This match will be the first time that the two rivals have met on the IRB Junior World Championship stage and throw in the fact that Wales have never beaten England at Under 20 level and fans at the Stade de la Rabine could be in for a titanic battle.
“The rivalry between England and Wales is huge,” admitted Nick Walshe, who took over the helm as England head coach after Rob Hunter left to join Exeter Chiefs at the conclusion of the Six Nations.
“Both teams will be very fired up to put one over on the old rival but you have got to try and take that out of it a little bit and just concentrate on the game and the final which is big enough as it is, let alone playing against Wales, and just try and enjoy it, these things don’t come around very often.”
Element of spice
His opposite number Danny Wilson admits the fact that the chance to become the first northern hemisphere winner of the IRB Junior World Championship will add another little bit of spice to the occasion.
“Traditionally that’s a huge derby fixture if you like, in terms of the rivalry, this year has got an added bit of spice to it after we met in a Grand Slam decider that England won and deserved on the day.
“We learnt some harsh lessons from that on the day and we know we go into this game as underdogs because of that. England are a very good side and well coached and obviously showing that they are more than capable of winning this competition.
“We know what’s in front of us and we are also confident that on the day if we turn up and produce our best performance that we can upset and win this competition.
“The motivational factor will be there no matter what. It’s a World Cup final, I don’t think there’s any game that can be more motivating but added to that it’s against England and that we lost to England earlier this year adds another element of spice into it.
“The players will be motivated but what’s important is that we get our execution right, our execution of our game plan and how to deal with England, so we will find out on the day.”
Battle for final positions
While the battle to become only the third team to lift the distinctive trophy will be the centre of attention, there is still plenty to play for in the other five play-off matches to determine the positions from third to 12th.
New Zealand find themselves in the unfamiliar position of playing off for third place against South Africa, the side that denied them a fifth successive title in 2012, in the 15:15 local time kick off in Vannes.
“We expect a very physical contest and I believe the guys are still highly motivated and there is a hunger amongst them to take this match to New Zealand. We really want to end this campaign on a high note,” admitted South Africa coach Dawie Theron.
Meanwhile at La Roche-sur-Yon, hosts France will come face to face with Argentina hoping to finish in fifth place, a position that had seemed unlikely after losses to South Africa and England in the pool stages.
Argentina, though, were disappointed to miss out on the semi-finals themselves after recording their best ever finish in 2012 and will once again look to fly half Patricio Fernandez to work his magic and ignite the backline.
Australia and Ireland both came to France with hopes of finishing higher than seventh but that is what the two nations will battle for in the first kick off at the Stade Henri Desgrange after narrow losses to Argentina and the hosts respectively on day four.
For the second year running, Samoa and Scotland will meet in the ninth place play-off. Last year Scotland ran out comfortable 62-28 winners, but the sides met in the pool stages and it took a last gasp penalty for them to edge a tight battle 36-33.
The other match at the Stade Pascal Laporte in Nantes pits USA against Fiji, the only two sides yet to record a win at JWC 2013, for the right to play at JWC 2014 in New Zealand. Fiji survived at this stage last year and will hope to do so again to avoid playing in the sister tournament, the IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy in Hong Kong.