John Davidson reports from the AJ Bell Stadium on the rampant red rose, Pumita power and a Tasman tussle on the final day of the World Rugby Under-20 Championship.
England 45-21 Ireland
England have been crowned World Champions at Under-20 level, capturing their third title in the past four years, with a dominant 24-point mauling of Ireland in the final. This was England at their best – ruthless at the breakdown, mean in defence, varied in attack, dominant in the set piece and backed up with the brilliant kicking of captain Harry Mallinder. The victory was sewn up after just 41 minutes when Mallinder’s first try put the hosts 28-0 up and the Irish were blown out of the water.
Ireland could do little to match the power, passion and precision that England started the game with. They hardly had the ball in the first 25 minutes and when they did they were brilliantly shut down by some terrific tackling.
England’s attack was just as good as their defence, the freakishly good outside centre Joe Marchant and fly-half Mallinder at the heart of it. Both have huge futures at the professional level. But England hardly had a bad player, as their breakdown was in control and their set-piece set the tone for this great display. Even their bench played a role in keeping up the high tempo.
In the second half Ireland scored three tries, full-back Jacob Stockdale standing out, but it was mere consolation. England always had the match in their grasp and never looked like losing it. This was a relatively comfortable victory for the men in white, their fifth straight win at the Manchester tournament. On a great day for English rugby with the whitewash Down Under, another important trophy was added to the now bulging cupboard.
Argentina 49-19 South Africa
Argentina secured their best-ever finish to an Under-20 World Championship with a third place in Manchester. The Pumitas saw off South Africa after withstanding an opening 20-minute onslaught. The Junior Boks ran in three tries in the first quarter but then the Argentines turned the tables, scoring 32 unanswered points to complete this tournament in real style. The Pumitas will be disappointed they didn’t reach the final but third is nothing to be sniffed. It is well deserved after the South Americans picked up the scalps of France, Japan and South Africa twice.
The Junior Boks started this game like a house on fire, playing with high energy and some lovely passing. Their counter-attacking was ruthless and both Manie Libbok and Edwill Van Der Merwe claimed tries.
But when Argentina finally did get the ball they didn’t waste it. Skipper Juan Cruz Mallia got the first of his hat-trick from a grubber by Domingo Miotti, and the Pumitas were on their way. They started the second half like men possessed and simply blitzed the Boks. Some of their running rugby was sublime while the hits in defence were powerful. South Africa could nothing to turn the tide. It was a real captain’s knock from Mallia, who led his team well from outside centre. This victory, combined with the senior team reaching the semi-finals of last year’s World Cup, shows the future is bright for Argentine rugby.
New Zealand 55-24 Australia
Fifth place is not a consolation for 2015’s winners but New Zealand have at least finished the tournament with a big victory over their trans-Tasman foes. The post mortem will continue back in the Shakey Isles as to why this team was unable to replicate the feats of past champion Kiwi Under-20 sides. The scoreline is a touch misleading as New Zealand did have some worrying moments against Australia. Their scrum was dire and they ended up conceding a penalty try to the Green and Gold, which is almost unheard of. It was 24-all early in the second half. But a dominant final 30 minutes was enough to run over the top of the fast-fading Aussies and secure fifth spot emphatically.
With mass changes made by both teams it was hard for cohesion and combinations. This was a stop-start affair led by the referee’s whistle and a large number of re-set scrums. New Zealand started poorly, kicking the ball out on the full at the start, but they soon found their rhythm with a try to the impressive Marino Mikaele Tu’u. Australia hit back through tall centre Campbell Magnay, but the Kiwis answered with another two tries. The Junior Wallabies started to exert some pressure at the scrum and it started to pay dividends. It was 21-21 at halftime but New Zealand found another gear and the Australians just couldn’t keep up. The heavens opened and five-pointers were claimed by Isaia Walker-Leawere, Peter Umaga-Jensen, Patelesio Tomkinson and Jonathan Taumateine. Overall though an unhappy end for both antipodean nations in this tournament.