IRB Junior World Championship
New Zealand and England eye glory
June 24, 2011
The captains, Alex Gray and Luke Whitelock, pose with the JWC trophy ahead of Sunday's clash in Treviso. © Getty Images
New Zealand and England will go head-to-head for the IRB Junior World Championship crown in Treviso on Sunday.
The Baby Blacks enter the game as favourites having gone unbeaten since the tournament's inception in 2008 - a run that has included commanding victories over Italy, Wales, Argentina and Australia on the road to this year's final. Along the way they have scored a record 34 tries with top-scorer Charles Piutau crossing the line on five occasions. Australia came closest to ending their incredible tally of 19 straight victories in the final four but the fact they still lost by 30 points underlines how dominant the Kiwis are at this level.
England grace the final for the third time in four years but are yet to get over the final hurdle with New Zealand having pipped them to the crown in 2008 (38-3) and 2009 (44-28). They have not had it so easy on their way to the tournament showpiece with both Ireland and Scotland working them over before South Africa pushed them all the way in their final pool game. A gutsy effort was then required to see off semi-final opponents France and another will be needed to shackle their all-conquering rivals for this year's title.
New Zealand- Player to Watch: Star fly-half Gareth Anscombe is their go-to man but the Baby Blacks ooze class from 1-15. Captain Luke Whitelock will want to continue a proud family tradition of winning the competition, following in brother Sam's footsteps.
New Zealand - Team News: The Baby Blacks have two changes in their starting line-up. A thigh muscle injury has ruled Glen Robertson out of selection, resulting in Auckland's Francis Saili moving into centre and Tasman's Mitchell Scott coming onto the wing. As a result, Canterbury's Rhys Llewellyn comes onto the bench.
England- Player to Watch: Mako Vunipola will hope to disrupt the Baby Blacks scrum and give scrum-half Chris Cook a platform to build upon. The giant Saracens prop has been in fine form so far in the Championship and England will look for him to assert himself early on.
England - Team News: England have no injury concerns but have made four changes to their XV with Worcester wing Andy Short, Wasps centre Elliot Daly, his club-mate and flanker Sam Jones and Sale prop Henry Thomas all drafted in.
Key Battle: All eyes will be on both fly-halves who have both excelled throughout the last two weeks. England's George Ford was sublime against France, and aged just 18, has a bright future ahead of him. His opposite number Anscombe is the tournament's top-scorer with 68 points and the Auckland fly-half will hope to add to his tally against England.
Trivia: New Zealand are now 19 games unbeaten in the tournament and have conceded just 16 tries since the tournament's inception.
Stats: The record for the most tries by a single player in JWC history is shared by New Zealand pair Zac Guildford and Julian Savea, who scored eight tries in the 2009 and 2010 tournaments respectively.
"When young men are under pressure they sometimes revert back to what they know, and that is to do their own thing, and that is when opportunities come to the opposition.'' - New Zealand coach Mark Anscombe issues a warning to his young stars
"New Zealand have an aura about them but they definitely aren't unbeatable. They sweat, they bleed - they're human - so if we go out there with the right game plan I'm confident we can give them a run for their money" - England captain Alex Gray is in bullish mood
Prediction: The Baby Blacks look favourites to win having not been troubled so far this tournament, or in any other for that matter. If England go on to claim the trophy, it will be a massive upset.
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