USA became the first host nation to win the IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy on home soil after a thrilling victory over Japan at Murray Rugby Park Stadium in Salt Lake City, Utah.
The JWRT 2012 final was typical of the nail-biting drama evident throughout a tournament that has done much to boost rugby’s appeal in the US. In an epic match that saw the lead change hands seven times, USA withstood one last onslaught from Japan to cling on for a 37-33 win in front of a sell-out partisan crowd.
Having lost the two previous finals it was a case of more disappointment for Japan who were christened the ‘Cardiac Kids’ because of their involvement in a series of heart-stopping matches. Pool fixtures against Zimbabwe, Canada and Georgia went right down to the wire, with only a single score separating the teams. The final was no different.
Trailing by 14 points in the first half to the free-scoring Japanese, the USA managed to get a foothold in the final when Tua Laei broke away to score a memorable try just before half-time. The Junior All-Americans pressed on thereafter and secured a 15-14 interval lead thanks to the first of three tries for hat-trick hero Noah Tarrant and the trusty boot of Madison Hughes who ended the tournament level with Romania’s Stefan Patrascu at the top of the all-time JWRT points scoring list.
The drama was far from over with a converted try from Shunsuke Nunomaki proving the catalyst for a see-saw second half. Japan added two further tries but two more Tarrant touchdowns and one from fellow wing Kingsley McGowan ensured Japan’s wait for JWRT glory will go on for at least another year.
For the USA promotion to the IRB Junior World Championship 2013 in France is the reward for upsetting all the odds in Utah. Ranked seventh going into the tournament after finishing second from bottom in Georgia the year before, the USA faced the toughest of opening matches against much-fancied Tonga.
Japan became known as the 'Cardiac Kids' but suffered a third successive JWRT final loss in 2012
Tonga enjoyed the support of Salt Lake City’s large Polynesian community, but after a tight first half the hosts went on to record a 22-11 win thank to tries from Hughes and Cameron Falcon after the break.
“As soon as we got off the bus we knew we had three things – attitude, hustle, and aggression - and you saw those all the time during the game. We never let up,” said USA captain Will Magie.
“We were happy with 6-6 at half-time because the wind was strong and it was going to be at our backs in the second half. We gave up a second-half try but then we just worked and worked and worked and we overpowered them. They are a bigger team and we overpowered them. That was very satisfying.”
Comfortable victories followed over Chile (54-25) and Russia (36-13) to confirm the USA’s place in the final on 30 June, while Tonga – relegated from the Junior World Championship the year before – were left to battle it out with Georgia for third place.
Another dramatic finale saw Tonga erase a 12-point deficit in the final six minutes to stun Georgia 31-29. With the win, the Tongans denied the eastern Europeans a third consecutive third place finish.
There was no less excitement in the fifth place play-off as 2008 runners-up Chile defeated Canada 43-31 for their second win of the tournament. In the seventh place play-off, Zimbabwe ended JWRT 2012 on a positive note with a 22-10 victory over Russia, who finished without a win to their name.
With an average of nine tries per match and a 25 per cent increase on the overall total compared to the year before JWRT 2012 will certainly take some beating in the entertainment stakes when the tournament returns to Chile next year.
IRB JUNIOR WORLD RUGBY TROPHY 2012 RESULTS
Chile 53-19 Russia
USA 22-11 Tonga
Tonga 62-7 Russia
USA 54-25 Chile
Tonga 41-14 Chile
USA 36-13 Russia
Japan 39-36 Zimbabwe
Georgia 31-17 Canada
Georgia 43-7 Zimbabwe
Japan 38-35 Canada
Canada 66-45 Zimbabwe
Japan 36-29 Georgia
Seventh place play-off: Russia 10-22 Zimbabwe
Fifth place play-off: Chile 43-31 Canada
Third place play-off: Tonga 31-29 Georgia
Final: USA 37-33 Japan
IRB JUNIOR WORLD RUGBY TROPHY 2012 FINAL STANDINGS