By Jon Newcombe
Another successful FIRA-AER European Under 18 Championship has concluded with England crowned champions for the third consecutive year following a 30-14 victory over Ireland in Saturday’s final in Wronki, Poland.
Head coach John Fletcher was pleased with the contributions made by all of his 26-man squad throughout the eight-team elite tournament, and believes a handful of players will go on to become stars of the senior international stage.
“At this age group it is about improving as a team with every game, having a trophy at the end of it is a nice bonus,” he said. “It’s good to see how the players perform in an environment that’s different to what they are used to.
“We pride ourselves on giving opportunities to the squad as a whole and I’d imagine the amount of game time our players have had is favourable to any other team in the championship. Also, it’s pleasing that whenever a player has come on as a replacement they’ve always made a difference
“It’s only a few years since the likes of Anthony Watson, Billy Vunipola and Jack Nowell were going through this programme, and there are three or four players on this trip, without naming any names, who I’d imagine will go on a similar pathway to those guys.”
Northampton and Rugby School fly half/centre Harry Mallinder, son of Saints director of rugby Jim, is one player who looks set for a bright future after contributing 30 points in his three appearances. Indeed, without Mallinder’s late intervention against Wales, England’s bid for a hat-trick of European titles would have been derailed at the semi-final stage.
Promotion for Russia and Sweden
England’s opening match of the tournament was the mis-match everyone expected, with the top seeds putting 10 tries past qualifiers Portugal on their way to a 62-5 win. Wings Rotimi Segun and Kai Little both grabbed a brace of tries and there were six other try scorers, including Mallinder who also kicked six conversions to bring his tally for the match to 17 points.
Against Wales, England survived driving rain, hail and high winds – as well as a spirited performance from their rivals – to pull through 11-9. The terrible conditions meant a repeat of the 43-12 drubbing they dished out to Wales less than a month ago was always going to be unlikely, although prop Jack Stanley handed England an early lead when he bulldozed his way over from close range for his second try in as many matches.
Wales responded with three penalties through Jarrod Evans before opposite number Theo Brophy Clews clawed one back to send England into the break just one point in arrears. Despite having the wind at their backs in the second half England were unable to add to their tally, until the nerveless Mallinder stepped up to kick what proved to be the match-winning penalty from just inside the Wales half with five minutes to go.
In the final, Mallinder kicked a penalty and converted tries from Taylor Prell and Lucas Slowik as England led Ireland 17-14 after a topsy-turvy first half. However there was only one side in it after the break, Prell scoring his second after a good break by Mallinder before Josh Bainbridge rounded things off with England’s fourth try.
Wales edged out France 31-30 in the third place play-off, Scotland finished fifth after a 24-15 win over Italy, while a 26-3 defeat at the hands of Georgia consigned Portugal to the wooden spoon and an immediate return to Division A.
Portugal’s place among the elite at next year’s championship in Toulouse will go to Division A winners Russia. Lively wing Pavel Golik scored a try in each half as Russia eased to a 27-3 win over Spain in the Division A final.
Sweden took the honours in Division B after scoring 20 tries and racking up 145 points in wins over Austria, Luxembourg and Switzerland.
England celebrate another European Under 18 title - Photo: Szymon Gruchalski / www.eurorugby2014.pl