The JWC final in Auckland between England and South Africa's U20s went right down to the wire, writes Alan Dymock in Auckland
They did it, just. England U20 won the Junior World Championships for the second year in a row after defeating South Africa 21-20.
England and South Africa scored two tries apiece, but this was a game more about grit and intelligence than scoring bucket loads of tries. So while Nathan Earle dotting down at the right place at the right time and Joel Conlon dumping himself over the line were great moments for England, as was an impressively dynamic brace for South African centre Jesse Kriel, it was the little moments that secured this title.
The JWC has had pundits in New Zealand wagging tongues all month as teams showed almost psychotic desire to attack. Refreshing. Fun. But it was a missed drop-goal attempt by eventual player of the tournament Handre Pollard and a crucial English scrum penalty deep in their own territory in the last five minutes that helped secure this result.
Of course there was plenty to get excited about – Kriel’s second try was a swaying, long-range number while a penalty form well over the halfway taken by Aaron Morris was a monster – but England’s coaches will be more impressed with the control and synergy of this win.
Perhaps there are only a handful of future Test stars in this side, with Maro Itoje, Earle, Henry Taylor and Billy Burns (who scored two penalties and a conversion) standing out – but that makes this win all the more encouraging for English fans.
This youth team are now consistently nightmarish to face and are producing mentally tough players used to winning. Talk of an dynasty at this level may be ill-founded, but this is good news for the game in England.