England 45 – 21 Ireland (Championship final)
The atmosphere was electric.
And on this, the championship-deciding day of their own tournament, so were England.
As with their hosting of the 2016 U20s World Championships, Saturday evening went to perfection for England.
Mallinder pulled the strings, Williams and Marchant made the space in midfield, Boyce, Singleton and Walker won the head at the scrum, Nott, Evans and Chick wreaked havoc at the breakdown and England claimed their third U20s championship with an empathic 45-21 triumph over a valiant Ireland.
A raucous crowd, split in partisan fashion between Irish green and English white, greeted the home nation rivals at the AJ Bell stadium on Saturday evening with the game’s opening exchanges fuelled by the same passion as exhibited by their respective supporters before kick-off.
It was a tight and abrasive opening to the game, both sides playing for territory as they felt the other out. But it was England – as it was to be all game – who came out on top.
With England in possession on 12 minutes, Harry Mallinder fed the ball to centre Joe Marchant who, with the Irish defence standing off, worked himself still more extra space, then with the defence tightening, used some fancy footwork to cut inside his man before sprinting clear under the posts for the game’s opening score. Mallinder converted to make it 7-0.
With the game’s first blow going to the hosts, and with the English scrum clearly on top having won two early penalties, England had a palpable sense of momentum on their side and they stretched their lead eight minutes later through Callum Chick.
After an attacking 5m scrum was reset, a herculean drive from the English pack wheeled the scrum allowing number eight Chick to fall over the line completely unimpeded. Mallinder produced a sublime touchline conversion to once again send the home crowd into raptures.
England were now in complete control and after repelling the first real Irish foray into their 22, the lead was to increase again through Huw Taylor.
With Ireland in possession, fly-half Johnny McPhillips attempted a short chip over the defensive line that was caught by Mallinder. With momentum on his side, the Northampton fly-half then launched a devastating counter-attack on the shapeless Irish defence. Having made the initial line-break, Mallinder found Johnny Williams on his shoulder who then off-loaded to a waiting Taylor for another unhindered touchdown. With the lead now at 21 points to nil and England once again suffocating a rare Irish spate of attacking play to end the half, one half of the storybook finish had been written.
England did not to let up after the break despite their comfortable lead. Within a minute of play restarting for the second forty, Joe Marchant returned the favour for Mallinder’s earlier assist on the former’s try. A superb touchline break from the Harlequins man instigated by a perfectly executed hand-off had the Irish defence scrambling and when his midfield partner Williams was on hand to take the inside ball, and in turn find the supporting Mallinder, son of Jim crossed under the posts for England’s fourth try of the game and all but secured their status as champions elect.
Ireland were to offer some resistance however. After winger Hugo Keegan had been held up metres from the line after a line break of his own, moments later Ireland had their first try of the afternoon. From a lineout, Ireland established a rolling maul and hooker Adam McBurney was on hand to crash over from in-close. McPhillips added the extras.
Yet the emerging theme in his game was of English efficiency. Only four minutes after Ireland had staked seven points back, England (and Mallinder) were crossing the whitewash once again. This time it was a superb line from Huw Taylor – found by Mallinder – that ripped the Irish line open and Mallinder was on hand for the second time to offer the support to finish off a well worked move under the sticks.
Ireland did respond immediately as the back-and-forth start to the second half continued, fullback Jacob Stockdale collecting a rushed clearance kick before bursting through the English defence with a mazy, 40 metre run that culminated in Shane Daly diving over in the corner to once again indicate the possibility of an Irish resurgence.
But after scrum-half Stephen Kerins was sin-binned for deliberately preventing a quick-tap penalty opportunity to which Mallinder slotted the ensuing penalty to make it 38-14 on sixty minutes, an aurora of inevitability overcame the AJ Bell as sporadic outbreaks of ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’ were sang by the jubilant half of the attendees.
The celebratory atmosphere was heightened further when Marchant completed his brace eight minutes later. A cross-field kick from Mallinder sat up perfectly for the onrushing Marchant to gather over Stockdale and with the Irish cover beaten, Marchant went in under the posts for England’s sixth and final try of the game.
There was still time for Max Deegan to score a late, consolatory, pushover try for Ireland to bring it back to 45-21 but at that point England had already been crowned as heirs to New Zealand’s U20 title.
Brilliant in all areas on the day, a composed yet exciting U20s side completed a perfect June for English rugby; with the senior sides winning their series in South Africa and Australia, the 2016 U20s Championship can be added to the growing list of accomplishments that has ushered in possibly the most exciting era of English rugby since 2003.
Argentina 49 – 19 South Africa (Bronze play-off)
In Saturday’s opening encounter, Argentina recovered from an early deficit to score 42 unanswered points and clinch third place in the 2016 U20s Championship in emphatic fashion, beating South Africa 49-19.
Early tries from fly-half Manie Libbok, Edwill Van Der Merwe and Jan-Henning Campher had given the Springboks a 19-7 lead midway through the first half, with the efficiency and precision of their set-play making a double-digit victory appear inevitable.
However, it was the Pumas who were ultimately to run out clear winners; having prevented South Africa from scoring again after the 22nd minute Argentina ran in five tries and 42 points without reply to emerge triumphant and leave Manchester with a bronze-medal finish.
In a rematch of their pool stage encounter a fortnight ago that saw the Pumas eke out a 19-13 victory, it was the South Africans who seized the early initiative.
A sweeping counter-attacking move instigated by Van Der Merwe on the left wing who beat his opposite number clean went through a number of phases before ending with fly-half Libbok in possession with nobody left to beat. Libbok converted his own try for a 7-0 lead.
And only three minutes later the Springboks were in again. A perfectly executed give-and-go backs move from an attacking scrum that made full use of the South Africans’ superior backline speed was finished off by the ever-dangerous Van Der Merwe. Libbok missed the conversion to limit the deficit to 12 points.
But with the ground firm and the sun shining in Manchester, it wasn’t long before the Argentinians were able to reply in kind. Utilising the exact same move that had resulted in a five-pointer against Ireland in Monday’s semi-final, fly-half Domingo Miotti, having received the ball in the South African 22, placed a perfectly weighted kick along the ground that was grounded by an onrushing Juan Cruz Mallia under the posts. Miotti added the first of his eight kicks of the afternoon to make it 12-7 after a thrilling 14 minutes.
The gung ho mentality of both sides coming into the game was plain to see and fullback Curwin Bosch was nearly in for the game’s fourth try four minutes later off the back of yet another sublime Springbok backs move. However, it was the South Africans’ forwards power that was to prove more decisive on 21 minutes; a powerful rolling maul splintering the Pumas defence to allow hooker Jan-Henning Campher to go over. Bosch added his second conversion to make it 19-7
But that was where the South African momentum was to end definitively. For the game’s remaining 58 minutes the Pumas ran rampant.
Mallia enacted the first step of the Argentina comeback three minutes later, capitalising on a Franco Naude knock-on in his own-half to scoop the ball up and score an opportunistic five-pointer which Miotti turned into seven moments later.
South Africa were then reduced to fourteen men immediately after the restart after lock Ruben De Villiers was sin-binned for a reckless tackle on the Argentine jumper. Although the Pumas were only able to amass three points in the ten minutes they had the numerical advantage – from a Miotti penalty – by half-time they were down only 19-17 with the impetus firmly on their side.
The Argentina resurgence began in earnest only two minutes after the restart, Mariano Romanini going over in the corner for the eventual winning score after a well-worked hooker-to-prop-back-to-hooker lineout move had brought possession to the South African line. Miotti added the extras to make it 24-19 in the South Americans’ favour for the first time.
With Argentina having finally wrested control of the match in their favour, Miotti astutely opted to kick for goal twice in the span of eight minutes which he duly converted to extend the lead to 30-19.
And despite the efforts of a Springboks team now scrambling to recover their lost grip on the game, they were met with an unwavering Argentina defence at every avenue, who, in turn, finished the game in methodical fashion.
First, on 61 minutes, hooker Gaspar Baldunciel broke off the back of a rolling maul to power over before number eight Facundo Dominguez did likewise six minutes later to put the game well and truly put the game out of reach at 44-17.
And despite Ignacio Calas’ late sin-binning, the Argentinian jubilation continued further when captain Mallia completed his hat-trick with the game’s final play, powering over having run another sublime line.
The 49-19 scoreline was nothing short of deserved for an Argentina team that has been one of the tournament’s most exciting; another medal finish speaks only to the growing powerhouse that is Pumas rugby.
Australia 24 - 55 New Zealand (Fifth place play-off)
In the day’s other game, New Zealand clinched fifth place with a 55 – 24 victory over Trans-Tasmanian rivals Australia.
In an even opening forty, the trademark All Black flair was counter-balanced by a dominant Australian pack.
Although early tries from Marino Mikaele Tu’u, Hapakuki Moala-Liava’a, and Quentin Strange (all converted by Jordie Barrett) gave New Zealand a lead they would hold for the majority of the first half, the Wallabies’ scrummaging dominance was telling – the final fifteen minutes of the half spent almost entirely in the All Blacks’ 22 resulting in a Faalalie Sione and a penalty try which, in combination with Campbell Magnay’s earlier effort, tied the score at 21 at the half.
However, the Kiwi’s superior ball-handling was to prove decisive in an open second-half no longer bogged down by persistent scrum resets.
Nick Jooste gave Australia a short-lived first lead of the game on 45 minutes before the All Blacks blew the game open with five tries scored in typically flowing and clinical fashion; Isaia Walker-Leawere, Asafo Aumua, Peter Umaga-Jensen, Patelesio Tomkinson and Jonathan Taumateine the beneficiaries of some slick collective ball-handling and passing that thoroughly outmatched anything the Wallabies could offer in resistance in a runaway second-half.
Miotti rounded off a consistently composed tournament with his best performance yet; a 19 point haul that saw him successful knock over eight of his nine attempts at the sticks.
With a varied attacking arsenal including an assortment of passes and kicks, he ran South Africa ragged all afternoon and produced some sublime bits of play for his teammates to convert – Juan Cruz Mallia and Mariano Romanini will be particularly thankful for Miotti’s on-field awareness.
A persistent threat to the Irish defence from the opening to the final whistle, Marchant’s fancy footwork and turn of pace was put to devastating use in the tournament final.
A central creative force in the English attack alongside Mallinder, Marchant’s inspired performance handed the tournament hosts control of the match within the game’s opening ten minutes and he was on hand to deliver one final dagger to the heart of the Irish resistance at the game’s end. Could fulfil a Jonathan Josephesque role in the England senior team’s midfield sooner rather than later and will be a prominent player for Harlequins in 2016/17.
The Hurricanes winger was absolutely lethal against Australia. In a worryingly dominant Kiwi backline, Umaga-Jensen stood out by a mile, with his vision, footwork, pace, and upper-body power allowing him to escape his defender seemingly with ease at every opportunity.
Team of the Day:
Loosehead Prop: Faalalie Sione (Australia)
Hooker: Gaspar Baldunciel (Argentina)
Tighthead Prop: Santiago Medrano (Argentina)
Lock: Isaia Walker-Leawere (New Zealand)
Lock: Huw Taylor (England)
Openside Flanker: Zain Davids (South Africa)
Blindside Flanker: Will Evans (England)
Number Eight: Callum Chick (England)
Scrum-half: Harry Randall (England)
Fly-half: Harry Mallinder (England)
Winger: Peter Umaga-Jensen (New Zealand)
Inside Centre: Juan Cruz Mallia (Argentina)
Outside Centre: Joe Marchant (England)
Winger: Orbyn Leger (New Zealand)
Fullback: Curwin Bosch (South Africa)
Final Tournament Standings:
Fourth: South Africa
Fifth: New Zealand
Twelfth and Relegated: Japan (Will play in the World Rugby U20s Trophy next season)