IRB Junior World Championship
Hunter backs young guns to kick on
ESPNscrum Staff
June 28, 2011
England reflect on defeat in the IRB Junior World Championship Final, England v New Zealand, IRB Junior World Championship, Stadio Plebiscito, Padova, Italy, June 26, 2011
England enjoyed a fantastic season but ended up just losing out to the Baby Blacks © Getty Images

England U20 head coach Rob Hunter has heaped praise on his side at the end of an "outstanding" season that culminated with a narrow defeat to New Zealand in the IRB Junior World Championship Final.

England suffered a heart-breaking 33-22 defeat to the Baby Blacks in Padova on Sunday in a disappointing end to what had been a thrilling assault on the Junior World Championship crown. But Hunter refused to dwell on the result and instead focused on the positives of a campaign that also included a Six Nations Grand Slam earlier in the year.

"It's sunk in that we aren't the U20 World Champions, of course we're still very disappointed but we've had a chance to reflect on what was an outstanding season for the lads - a Sjx Nations Grand Slam and a Junior World Championship final is an outstanding effort," Hunter said. "It was a frustrating game against New Zealand because we could have won it, but we didn't execute a few of our chances and that's what has cost us."

Hunter now faces the task of assembling a new squad for the 2012 U20 Six Nations as many of his current group will be too old for selection. Captain Alex Gray and Saracens' Mako Vunipola have now played their last game for the England U20's and Hunter paid tribute to the outgoing class of 2011.

"A lot of these players won't get the chance to play for the 20's again, but they've been an excellent group to work with," Hunter said. "There have been some notable successes along the way, and I have no doubt that we'll see a few of these lads in England jerseys in the future. What's important now is that the lads who are with us next season use their experiences from this season to bring on the lads who will be coming through."

Newcastle's Gray enjoyed a fantastic campaign and, despite the loss in the final, paid tribute to his teammates. "It was a really tough game, we knew that if we turned up then anything was possible and we ran them close," Gray said. "A couple of decisions didn't go our way and we gave them a few openings, they're a top class team and they punished us.

"On a personal note, that was my last game at England age grade level after playing for the U16s, U18s and U20s so it is a bit emotional. I've come through the ranks with a few of the boys, and I'm proud to have been on such a good journey with them."

Along with Gray, one of the shining lights throughout the tournament for England was Wasps second-row Joe Launchbury. The lock was nominated players' player of the tournament by his fellow teammates and he admitted he was 'proud' with the accolade. "We gave it our best shot, but they're a class side with quality throughout their squad, but we came here to win, so obviously we're massively disappointed.

"To be named players player of the tournament means a lot, particularly as it was chosen by my teammates, it's something I'm really proud of, but it could have gone to any one of the lads - everybody played their part and gave their all, it's just a shame that it wasn't quite enough."

As England reflect on what might have been, one individual who will certainly be part of Hunter's plans for the future is 18-year-old Leicester Tigers' fly-half George Ford. Ford, who was the youngest player at the 2011 JWC, amassed a personal total of 51 points and he paid tribute to the outgoing crop. "The lads have taken so much from the tournament and there's no doubt that we'll come out better players because of it. A lot of this squad are moving on, but it's been awesome playing with them over the past few years.

"The likes of Alex Gray and Mako Vunipola has been the heartbeat of the team and we'll miss them, but there are some very good players coming through so we'll do our best to go one better and win it next year."

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