Planet Rugby

JWC Preview: England v New Zealand

25th June 2011 13:08

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Francis Saili in Junior World Championship semi final

Tough to stop: Francis Saili

England U20s have a nation boasting a 19-match unbeaten run in the shape of New Zealand standing in their way in Sunday's IRB Junior World Cup Final.

Stadio Plebiscito is where the top two teams in U20 rugby will clash for what should be a cracker - although it is hard to look past NZ totting up 20.

They have dominated Italy 64-7, Wales 92-0, Argentina 48-15 and in their semi, Australia 37-7, resulting in a 241 points for to 29 against record! Little chance for the English then? Maybe, maybe not, as the Baby Blacks have yet to be seriously tested in the competition so that may be an interesting subplot bubbling under the surface.

England must, of course, front up and stop the Kiwis at source, thus nullifying their threat wider out, which is something commentator Nigel Starmer-Smith also believes is a critical aspect.

"England's back row has been outstanding, with Alex Gray the captain rounding off the triumph with his try at the end of the France match, and Matt Kvesic and Matt Everard alongside him," Starmer-Smith told the IRB website.

"These are the key elements and it's easy to say they've got brilliant attacking backs in the French side, but you've got to have the ball winners up front and that is where I think England do stand a strong chance now against a New Zealand side which looks invincible, but were only tested for the first time, and for a while Australia were in it.

"I don't think England will wilt or be subdued up front in the way that it happened to Australia in the second semi-final."

Outside that there are key match-ups all over the field, notably at number eight where the scrap between captains Alex Gray and Luke Whitelock will excite throughout. However it is at numbers ten and twelve where this final is likely to be won and lost, with Gareth Anscombe set to meet his toughest task in the form of Leicester's in-form youngster George Ford.

"If Ford and (scrum-half Chris) Cook can control the game as well as they have over the tournament, then I think England are in a very good position because to me, Ford has got everything in a first five," continued Starmer-Smith.

"He's got vision and he also can identify where space is and he'll frustrate the New Zealanders by turning them around, and we saw in the semi-final he's not afraid to chance his arm. He scored a brilliant try.

"If Ford is on song and if the pack give him enough decent ball, then of course they're capable of beating New Zealand."

Optimism that is warranted but it is hard to look past New Zealand U20s hitting 20 victories on the bounce, denying the English their scalp for the third successive time in the process.

Players to watch:

For England: The slick combination between George Ford and Owen Farrell will be critical if England are to stand any chance of overcoming such a stern hurdle that is in front of them in Padova. New Zealand have their own two fly-halves in their line-up situation as Gareth Anscombe and Lima Sopoaga combine at 10 and 12. Get the better of those two and England might just have a shout at making it third time lucky against these Baby Blacks.

For New Zealand: Yes, there is another one Whitelock conveyor belt as Luke is soon to join brothers Sam, George and Adam in Super Rugby next year. New Zealand's number eight has been superb for the Baby Blacks in Italy and his battle with England captain Alex Gray will be an interesting match-up. Weighing in at 106kg and standing at 193cm, Whitelock already has the build to make it in open-age and is definitely one to watch in Padova.

Head-to-head: Alex Gray against Luke Whitelock, George Ford against Gareth Anscombe and Owen Farrell against Lima Sopoaga - this is great stuff. However I am looking forward to seeing the battle at outside centre where Elliot Daly meets Francis Saili. It's played four, scored four for Saili so form is with the powerful Auckland man. Can he be stopped?

Prediction: They have too much class. New Zealand by 18!

The teams:

England: 15 Ben Ransom, 14 Andy Short, 13 Elliot Daly, 12 Owen Farrell, 11 Christian Wade, 10 George Ford, 9 Chris Cook, 8 Alex Gray (capt), 7 Matt Kvesic, 6 Sam Jones, 5 Charlie Matthews, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Henry Thomas, 2 Mikey Haywood, 1 Mako Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 Rob Buchanan, 17 Will Collier, 18 Sam Twomey, 19 Matt Everard, 20 Dan Robson, 21 Ryan Mills, 22 Marland Yarde.

New Zealand: 15 Beauden Barrett, 14 Mitchell Scott, 13 Francis Saili, 12 Lima Sopoaga, 11 Charles Piutau, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Luke Whitelock (capt), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Brad Shields, 5 Brodie Rettalick, 4 Steven Luatua, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Solomona Sakalia.
Replacements: 16 Sefo Setefano, 17 Michael Kainga, 18 Dominic Bird, 19 Carl Axtens, 20 Brad Weber, 21 Rhys Llewellyn, 22 Waisake Naholo.

Date: Sunday, June 26
Venue: Stadio Plebiscito, Padova
Kick-off: 19.10 (17.10 GMT)
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)

By Adam Kyriacou

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