England Under-20 – who included Andy Short and Matt Kvesic – are through to the final of the IRB Junior World Championship for the third time in four years after beating northern hemisphere rivals France 33-18 in Treviso, Italy.
Tries from London Wasps wing Christian Wade, Leicester Tigers fly half George Ford, Saracens full back Ben Ransom and Newcastle Falcons No. 8 and captain Alex Gray helped England to the win in what was a topsy-turvy encounter, played in hot conditions.
England started with real intensity and a strong scrum in the middle of the park was rewarded with a penalty that was kicked into touch by Ford. Northampton Saints hooker Mikey Haywood delivered a good throw from the line out and the ball was worked back to Farrell who kicked a grubber through for Wade to touch down for his fifth try of the competition. Ford missed the conversion.
France’s response was immediate, heavy pressure from the restart resulted in USA Perpignan prop Sebastian Taofifenua burrowing over to score, and the successful conversion from Jean Pascal Barraque gave France the lead at 7-5.
Both sides then exchanged penalties, Barraque for France and Ford for England, to make the score 10-8. Ford then missed a three-pointer that would have reclaimed the lead for Head Coach Rob Hunter’s men, dragging his kick just wide.
Ford’s nifty footwork freed up space in open play minutes later, but the 18-year-old fly half couldn’t find the support to back him up. England were applying heavy pressure on the French defence and almost broke through five minutes before the break. Ransom found some space behind the French line but was denied by an excellent last-ditch cover tackle.
England’s second try came just before half time, again, sustained pressure from the English pack resulted in Ford displaying some deft footwork to dodge several French tackles before crashing over to make the score 13-10 at the break, after the conversion was missed.
Sloppy play from England at the start of the second half handed France two early penalties, No. 13 Barraque missed the first but made no mistake with the second to tie the scores up at 13-apiece.
French wing Marvin O’Connor scored his side’s second try of the game with 52 minutes on the clock, making some space for himself along the touchline before cutting inside Ransom to touch down. The conversion was missed, giving France a five-point lead at 18-13.
England hit back with their third try just five minutes later. Ransom, who came within meters of scoring in the first half, made no mistake second time around, touching down wide of the posts after some strong phase play from his teammates. Ford’s successful conversion gave England back the lead at 20-18.
A Ford penalty after 65 minutes opened England’s lead up to five points, but France almost scored their third try ten minutes later in bizarre circumstance. A French line-out was won by England, but another ball appeared on the pitch while England had possession and the line-out was taken again. France won at the second attempt and almost scored in the corner, but the TV Match Official ruled that the ball wasn’t touched down.
Ford’s radar was again spot on with seven minutes left to play, converting a long range penalty to give England an eight point lead at 26-18. France then went over England’s try line, but Irish referee John Lacey pulled it back after spotting a forward pass in the build up.
With the clock past 80, France were throwing everything at England, but a loose pass in their own half was snapped up by captain Gray who ran through unopposed to touch down between the posts and Ford’s conversion brought the game to a close.
Points: Wade 1T, Ford 1T, Ransom 1T, Gray 1T; Ford 3P 2C.