The IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy 2009 final lived up to expectations with end to end play, scything breaks through midfield, near misses and a tense finale as Romania scored 19 unanswered points in the second half to beat USA 25-13 at the RFUEA Grounds in Nairobi on Sunday.
That it was two errors rather than moments of magic that saw Romania Under 20s crowned champions was unfortunate, but that is taking nothing away from the Europeans who have used their strong forward pack as the base for their talented backline to attack.
It was impossible to split the two sides as the final entered the last 10 minutes level at 13-13, but as the threat of extra time loomed it was two errors by the Junior Eagles which proved decisive and ensured it was Romania, not they, who were celebrating come the final whistle.
First replacement scrum half Chris Saint, as he tried to launch an attack, threw a pass straight into the grateful arms of Marian Drenceanu, the second row then linking well with Marian Pirvu to enable the full back to touch down.
Stefan Patrascu pulled the conversion well wide to leave the Americans only a converted try from the title, but as they pushed forward in search of that score the ball went loose and was hacked on and then again by the fly half, who beat his opposite number Tai Enosa to the touchdown.
The Romanians could finally celebrate with only two minutes remaining, no doubt with Patrascu heaving a huge sigh of relief having seen a penalty and drop goal attempt both go wide of the uprights in the minutes leading up to the try burst.
Realising the target
"I am happy and overjoyed," enthused captain Eduard Marinca afterwards. "I said earlier that our intention was to lift this trophy and true to it God has rewarded our hard work. We knew we had to play and that's what we did, the boys put in a lot of work and gave it all.
"It's an experience like no other."
Patrascu, the leading point scorer in the tournament with 61 in Romania's four matches, had earlier given the European champions the lead with a seventh minute penalty, but then put his next two efforts just wide to the left and then the right.
His counterpart Enosa - who like teammate Zach Test was named in new Eagles coach Eddie O'Sullivan's first training squad during the tournament - sliced the uprights with a drop goal before the USA went ahead for the first time with Robert Johnson's penalty.
Test was beginning to cause real problems for the Romanian defence, the USA Sevens star breaking through the middle or round the outside on the wing at will. However it was not Test, but centre Niall O'Keeffe who made the break that led to Enosa scoring the first try of the final.
"The boys played like a team and I believe we are now a group. We played from our hearts though it was a tough match and it was a good experience for the boys. My experience from this tournament will truly be to dedicate Kenyan rugby spirit to the world," said Romania head coach Mircea Paraschiv.
His counterpart Salty Thompson added: "We had control of the game in the first half, in the second half we got the field advantage but unfortunately we didn't score. We put ourselves under a lot of pressure and led to us losing. I give respect to all players of both teams, it was a tough match and congratulations to Romania they won."
Tight battles for third and fifth
If the final proved to be a tight affair which could have gone either way then the same is true for two of the play-offs on the final day with Chile edging hosts Kenya 19-17 for third place and Namibia winning a thrilling encounter against Papua New Guinea 48-43 to claim fifth.
Chile, the 2008 Trophy runners up, fashioned the opening score from a nicely worked attacking scrum as scrum half Nicolas Herreros scampered over the try-line and then converted his own score to make it 7-0.
The South Americans nearly doubled their lead through wing Mauricio Rey, but were thwarted by more resolute defence. They did though make it 14-0 when Francisco Fernandez ran powerfully from the centre to touch down, before Kenny Andola slotted a penalty for Kenya.
Roared on by the home crowd, Kenya were inspired to fashion a fight back to revival that against the USA on day two, and they began to compete with more purpose in the set pieces and cut the deficit when Felix Ayange's fine run and pass set up a try for centre Joseph Abala.
Rey temporarily silence the Kenyan supporters with a try to go with his hat-trick in Chile's defeat by Romania to put Chile ahead 19-10, but the Chipu's pace and fitness began to tell in the last 10 minutes as replacement Anthony Nyandigisi's run leading to a try for Graham Dinda.
That was to be as close as Kenya got to third place though as the more experienced Chilean side held onto the ball cleverly as the clock ticked down to seal a deserved 19-17 win and a third place finish.
"We put ourselves under pressure, they were very fast and we should have controlled the match much more. But we are happy, we came to a tournament of this calibre and won three out of four games," said Chile coach Rodrigo Boyé.
"In the game against Romania we have ourselves to blame for the defeat but we know we could have been there. As I told the players, from now on, those who are no longer eligible, it is up to them and their desire to do the hard work to continue representing our country at test level."
His counterpart Mitch Otieno added: "It is surely a good feeling, a good experience for the team. Today we actually dominated in the forwards but unfortunately the heat didn't pay off. It's positive and nothing to be down about. The experience we have gained from this tournament will surely help us build up."
Fifth again for Namibia
The fifth place play-off may have produced more points but was equally tight, with Namibia making the most of a one-man advantage for the whole of the second half to edge Papua New Guinea 48-43 to match their final placing at the inaugural tournament last year.
Some more outstanding attacking running rugby had allowed underdogs Papua New Guinea to build a 24-21 half-time lead against the more physical Namibia.
The Oceania champions once again shunned the modern obsession with kicking, forwards and backs linking seamlessly in counter-attacking from anywhere on the pitch against the more orthodox Namibians, but ultimately that same flair and unstructured approach proved their downfall.
Papua New Guinea had scored four outstanding tries in the first half, but a lack of shape in defence also allowed the Namibians time and space in the final third and they fought back into the match, largely thanks to the leadership and ability of captain Robert Herridge, whose personal duel with outstanding his opposite number Christopher Kakah was one of the features of the match.
Flanker Desmond Korpok opened the scoring in the first minute before wing Steven Jacob made it 12-0 after five minutes. Namibia hit back through Herridge, but Papua New Guinea reasserted their lead when Bobby Pau touched down.
André de Klerk, who coach Johan Diergaardt revealed will link up with the Namibian senior squad for their tour to Argentina on his return from Kenya, and Lezhanne Alcock both scored for the African champions either side of Kakah's try for Papua New Guinea.
The loss of hooker Yahu Possy for foul play shortly before the half time whistle put Papua New Guinea on the back foot and while they scored first after the break through Korpok, an immediate lapse in concentration allowed replacement Russel van Wyk to cross Namibia.
Ojay Benson Moka restored Papua New Guinea's lead but, with fatigue starting to take its toll, Herridge and De Klerk scored tries to pull the scores level. Johan Tromp's penalty edged the Africans ahead before Janee Karuaihe's converted try gave Namibia a 10-point lead.
Papua New Guinea were not finished with Kakah scoring again, but a sixth place finish for his side was a positive for coach Robin Tarere with the lessons learned on the tournament debut to be implemented to ensure a brighter future.
"I am happy with today's performance. We made silly mistakes that cost us tries. They had a much bigger pack and that is one of the lessons we take home - we must find bigger players," said the former international.
"This is the standard of rugby we have to aim to play regularly in and we will try to win the Pacific region to ensure we are back. The Junior World Rugby Trophy was an eye opener for all of us and every one of the players goes home much more experienced. I can imagine a few of them will go on to win caps in the future."
New record for Korean star
The battle to avoid finishing eighth was not as tight, largely thanks to the efforts of Korean number 8 Cha Sung Kun, who grabbed the headlines with a record five-try haul to help his side run out 62-12 winners over Cayman Islands at the Impala ground.
Cha scored four of his tries in the first half to equal the record for tries in a single match set by fellow Korean Kim Hyun Soo against Jamaica in the inaugural IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy in Chile last year.
The number 8 scored the opening try in the second minute and had crossed for his fourth try with only 20 minutes on the clock with his fellow forward, prop Oh Dong Gyun having also touched down as Korea established a 27-0 advantage.
Centre Yoo Hee Bum scored Korea's sixth try with flanker Lee Hak Seop adding another just before the half-time whistle as his side matched the number of tries they had scored in their previous three matches put together.
The most celebrated try of the first half though was Michael Wilson's for the Cayman Islands, the lively scrum half gathering his own chip over the defence to score under the posts. A key player for his side, Wilson would also score the Cayman Islands' only try of the second half.
The second half was far more even with Cayman Islands much improved as they began to hold their own and spend prolonged periods in the Korean 22 for the first time, even though they were unable to find a way through the defence.
Hwang Seung Eop and Park Hong Sik increased Korea's half-time advantage of 41-7 before Wilson's second try, but it was fittingly left to man of the match Cha to have the final say with his record breaking fifth try.
"I can't say I am disappointed but overall I am pleased with the tournament. We did not win any matches but I believe it drives us on to come next year. We have learnt a lot about size and weight and will have to put all that into consideration," admitted Cayman Islands captain Daniel McGrath.