New Zealand won the World Rugby U20 Championship for the first time since 2011, defeating England U20 21-16.
England were chasing a third title in a row, while for New Zealand this was an opportunity for a 5th title, having won the first four editions of this tournament before South Africaâ€™s win in 2012 followed by Englandâ€™s 2013 and 2014 triumphs.
The game was tight throughout, but New Zealandâ€™s defence proved too difficult for England to unpick sufficiently to secure the victory, and their two tries to Englandâ€™s one saw them take the victory.
England actually started the brighter, scoring a try within four minutes through Bathâ€™s Max Clark, who cut a wonderful line following a Nick Tompkins break. Clarkâ€™s Bath teammate, who was also a schoolmate of his at Bryanston, Rory Jennings banged over the extras to put England 7-0 up.
Jennings then exchanged penalties with New Zealandâ€™s Otere Black to take the score to 10-3.
At that stage England were on top not just on the scoreboard but in the feel of the game too, with their maul causing problems and their scrum looking solid. New Zealandâ€™s backs looked dangerous though, and so it was to prove 25 minutes in when Vince Aso went flying over in the right hand corner, Aso had only been on the pitch for a matter of seconds after coming on as an injury replacement for TJ Faiane.
Black missed the conversion but soon after landed a penalty to put New Zealand ahead at 11-10, it was to be a lead that New Zealand took into half time and one that they never surrendered.
The Baby Blacks came flying out in the second half, and within five minutes they had picked up their second try. Number 8 Akira Ioane, surely destined for great things, finishing of a series of drives near the line to add to his personal tally through the tournament.
Blackâ€™s conversion put New Zealand 18-10 ahead, but then the momentum shifted soon after as Ioane, rather harshly, saw yellow for a late no-arms tackle on Rory Jennings.
Jennings dusted himself down to land the penalty though, narrowing the gap to five points. A minute later that could have become an England lead as substitute Piers Oâ€™Connor crossed the whitewash following a brilliant England move. Lewis Ludlum, surely Englandâ€™s best player on the night, secured one of a number of brilliant turnovers before the ball was moved on and kicked ahead, with Ludlamâ€™s Northampton Saints teammate Howard Packman taking a stupendous catch to gather the kick.
As Packman hit contact upfield the ball spilled loose and he hacked through for Oâ€™Connor who took it over the line, but the TMO ruled that he had been ahead of the kick. If he was, there were centimetres in it.
There was time for some points before Ioane returned though, with Jennings slottingÂ a penalty to make it 16-18, however shortly after Black hit back for New Zealand to restore the five point lead at 21-16.
From there New Zealand really controlled the last twenty minutes of the game, the only real opportunity England had was a penalty chance for Jennings with ten minutes to go. Unfortunately for England a rather bizarre fireworks display understandably perhaps put him off as his penalty just slid wide
From there New Zealand expertly saw the game out, their defensive line holding up brilliantly to Englandâ€™s attacks, preventing any England possession from becoming a threat.
It was a well deserved win for New Zealand, who in Ioane and Tevita Li in particular have some real stars of the future. As do England though, Ludlamâ€™s performance was sensational, while captain Charlie Ewels and Nick Tompkins in the centres, among many others, already have good 1st XV experience and look set for impressive careers.
Englandâ€™s Head Coach Jon Callard alluded to that potential for future success when he spoke after the game, saying:
â€œI am honoured and privileged to be in a position to be talking about such fine young men. They have been a great advert for the game and great ambassadors for their clubs and country. I canâ€™t speak highly enough of them and I know that a lot of them will go on to further honours.Â â€œ
â€œWe were the smallest of margins away from finding the solution there, if it had gone on for another ten minutes we may have snuck it but we couldnâ€™t quite adapt and deliver that one play in the crucial moment that would have made the difference and we will learn from that moving forward.â€
Forwards coach Ian Peel echoed that sentiment, saying:
â€œHugely disappointed with the result of this match but massively pleased with the way the lads have dug in and played some great rugby during the tournament. There is real talent in this group and Iâ€™m sure they will be pushing hard for places in the senior side in years to come.Â â€œ
â€œNew Zealand defended well and were aggressive in the tackle. In the end they got the upper hand in the breakdown, they managed to slow us down and stop us from getting the ball away quickly which prevented a quick attack.â€
The hurt at having lost the game was clear to see on the faces of the England players at the final whistle, and fly half Rory Jennings voiced that sentiment in his post match interview, saying:
â€œWeâ€™re devastated, lost for words really. It was such a tough match, both sides going hard at it and fair play to them for coming away with the victory. I am so proud of the boys though, they put in a massive effort this evening. We knew there was one score in it and we needed to keep the pressure on them, play in the right areas of the field but on the occasions that we forced it a bit they capitalised.â€
His Bath and former Bryanston School teammate Max Clark, Englandâ€™s try scorer, acknowledged Englandâ€™s resilience through the tournament and the bond that they have made as a group:
â€œIn the team huddle at the end we acknowledged that although we are hurting now, we have to remember how far we have come as a squad. Our journey started in the Six Nations, we showed resilience to bounce back from that result against France last week, we fronted up this evening and now we will push on as individuals and as a strong group of friends.â€
Two titles and a final in three years is really quite some return. Englandâ€™s future looks very secure indeed. The All Blacks, as ever, can safely say the same.
Full Time: England U20 16-21 New Zealand U20
England U20 XV:
15. Aaron Morris (Saracens)
14. George Perkins (Saracens)
13. Nick Tompkins (Saracens)
12. Max ClarkÂ (Bath Rugby)
11. Howard Packman (Northampton Saints)
10. Rory Jennings (Bath Rugby)
9. James Mitchell (Sale Sharks)
1. Ellis Genge (Bristol Rugby)
2. Jack Walker (Yorkshire Carnegie)Â
3. Paul Hill (Yorkshire Carnegie)
4. Will Witty (Newcastle Falcons)
5. Charlie Ewels (Bath Rugby, Captain)
6. Lewis Ludlam (Northampton)
7. Will Owen (Leicester Tigers)
8. James Chisholm (Harlequins)
16. Jack Innard (Exeter Chiefs)
17. Sebastian Adeniran-Olule (Harlequins)
18. Ciaran Parker (Sale Sharks)
19. Kieran Treadwell (Harlequins)
20. Sam Skinner (Exeter Chiefs)
21. Will Homer (Bath Rugby)
22. Lloyd Evans (Gloucester)
23. Piers Oâ€™Conor (Wasps)
Pens: Jennings x3
New Zealand U20 XV:
15. Mitch Hunt (Auckland)
14. Jack Goodhue (Canterbury)
13. Anton Lienert-Brown (Waikato)
12. TJ Faiane (Auckland)
11. Tevita Li (North Harbour)
10. Otere Black (Manawatu)
9. Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi (Taranaki)
1. Ricky Riccitelli (Hawkes Bay)
2. Liam Polwart (Auckland)
3. Atu Moli (c) (Waikato)
4. Josh Goodhue (Canterbury)
5. Hamish Dalzell (Canterbury)
6. Mitchell Dunshea (Canterbury)
7. Blake Gibson (Auckland)
8. Akira Ioane (Auckland)
16. Steven Misa (Waikato)
17. Isileli Tuâ€™ungafasi (Auckland)
18. Tau Koloamatangi (Waikato)
19. Mitchell Jacobsen (Waikato)
20. Henry Stowers (Wellington)
21. Harrison Levien (Waikato)
22. Vince Aso (Auckland)
23. George Bridge (Canterbury)
Tries: Aso, Ioane
Pens: Black x3