20 June 2014
With the help of three ex-Oaklands Students in their ranks, Nathan Earle, Nick Tompkins and Hayden Thompson-Stringer, England U20s retained their Junior World Championship title with a nail-biting 21-20 victory over South Africa in a final that went right to the wire.
A greasy Eden Park surface played havoc with the both teams' handling, with neither sets of backs able to fire consistently. But England were good enough both in attack and defence when it mattered and lift for the second time in successive years.
England's try-scoring heroes came in the form of Nathan Earle and Joel Conlon, while fly-half Billy Burns matched the illustrious Springbok No.10 Handre Pollard from the kicking tee.
But South Africa did not go quietly. They scrapped like animals in Auckland, scoring two tries of their own through centre Jessie Kriel. Had captain Pollard been more accurate with the boot - he missed two dropped goal attempts - then the title could have been going to the southern rather than northern hemisphere.
As half-time loomed, England sprang a surprise after an trademark sidestep from Nick Tompkins, followed by great upper body strength to carry him within meters of the tryline. After a quick breakdown, Burns send Earle skipping over in the corner. Burns missed the extras but England - who had been heading into the break 10-6 down - went in 11-10 to the good.
Burns and Pollard once again exchanged penalties as the second-half got under way and, with only one point between them, the pressure on both sets of young men cranked up a notch.
Federico Anselmi switched the decision in England's favour. Securing possession, they set up a maul that could not be stopped and Joel Conlon barrelled over. Burns converted to put England 19-13 up.
What followed was ten minutes of edge-of-your-seat rugby as South Africa threw everything they had at England. They hit back via another Jessie Kriel try, this time the centre finishing off a Springbok breakaway move. Pollard's extras put South Africa just one point behind with 15 minutes to play.
England clung on for the closing minutes despite a South African onslaught on their line. Pollard had an opportunity to put his side back in front but his drop goal attempt fell wide. From then on, England ground down the minutes as they prayed for the hooter to sound.
The closing stages were certainly not pretty, but England will not care one little bit as they celebrate tonight. They lift the Junior World Championship trophy for the second time in two years, but they were made to fight for it by a valiant South Africa effort.
Following the game, Oaklands Director of Rugby, Dave Hesketh was delighted with the result: "Today’s game was a fantastic advert for England Rugby and goes to show how successful the RFU’s development pathways have been over recent years.
"The RFU’s introduction of the AASE programme is really beginning to pay off, with many of the players involved in today’s game coming out of colleges like Oaklands.
"On a personal note it was unbelievably satisfying to see lads, who we’ve spent so much time with in recent years, achieving at the very highest age group level in the world game.
"Seeing the boys lifting the trophy has made us all here at the College very proud, and that being topped with Nathan’s nomination for World Junior Player of the Year, it’s been a good morning! I’ll be certainly be toasting their success tonight!"