We caught up with TV commentator Simon Ward to get his thoughts on New Zealand's record-breaking display to win the World Rugby U20 Championship 2017 title, the Player of the Tournament and the tournament in Georgia as a whole.
Simon, that was an incredible end to the 2017 tournament?
An historic end, New Zealand winning their sixth title but in such style – record number of tries, the record number of points in a final says it all about Luke Jacobson’s side and I think they can feel mightily proud of what they have achieved. We have seen good New Zealand sides before, don’t get me wrong, but this side this is special and we need to keep an eye on these guys because we are going to add to the 510 graduates fairly quickly in New Zealand and All Black colours. They produced a power, an efficiency, an execution and an ambition in such dramatic content really. They way that they worked their attack, and you know when you get a hooker scoring a hat-trick that kind of says it all. They had an all-court game that teams just couldn’t cope with.
We had talked about their backs in the build-up, but nine of the 10 tries they scored came from their forwards so that shows the game they played?
Your eyes are automatically drawn to the Falcons, the Caleb Clarkes, the Will Jordans but when you see the way that those forwards interlink as well, that is why it is so difficult to defend against. We have said it before, and we will say it again, the instinct in New Zealand rugby is innate and when you get those skill sets linking up like they do it is relentless. It is so difficult to defend against and we saw it in the first half in the semi-final and we saw it in the first half in the final, they can just blow teams away.
England had defended so well going into the final but they never really got their game going in the final?
They weren’t allowed too, they were out-powered to be honest. They were falling off first-up tackles, maybe it was technique, maybe it was the power of the Baby Blacks but it allowed New Zealand to get onto the front foot so quickly and once they are over that gain-line my goodness me they flood the channels, they get people in support so quickly that it is impossible to stop them.
South Africa’s number eight Juarno Augustus was named Player of the Tournament, a deserved winner from the five nominees?
Deservedly so, the top try-scorer in the competition and great to see almost an outsider, because this isn’t a guy that has come through Craven Week, this is a guy that has come from a different school, not what we consider a rugby school in South Africa, and he has made his mark on the tournament. Scored a try in every single game that he has played in, played well in defence as well as attack and provided the link and the drive that South Africa have needed.
I think the Junior Springboks, much as they will be disappointed by their semi-final loss to England, can be rightly proud of themselves because they have proved that they have the capacity to play in a very attacking style. This is bigger picture stuff don’t forget, because Allister Coetzee at the top is having a lot of pressure on how South Africa need to play in order to progress and we have seen it from these Junior Springboks as well and of course the eerie coincidence is that the Junior Springboks beat France U20s by the same score that the Springboks beat France in Durban yesterday. That’s a bizarre coincidence but maybe that just shows the way that South Africa rugby is now capable of going.
Who else impressed you in the tournament?
I think you have to look at the Italians because I think that is the best Azzurrini team we have seen in this competition ever probably and the belief was very evident from their early performances. They will be delighted with their campaign. I think Argentina will be disappointed having finished with the bronze last year, the thought was that they could press on and from the early games it looked like they may be able to, but ultimately they fell away in that last game (against South Africa).
I think you can look at Scotland and Wales, both of whom have had their moments in the sun but didn’t really have the continuity, particularly for the Welsh but there is a high proportion of that group that will be coming back for next year’s tournament so the experience they have gained here in Georgia will be invaluable when they set-up for next year. Samoa had their brief flair and moment against Australia when perhaps they could have taken the game, but every team has had a part of a game where you can see the future, you can see what they are trying to work towards. There will be disappointment, of course there will be. The Irish really struggled but we knew they were going to struggle because of the injuries they had had before and suffered during as well, that was always going to be a limiter.
We have seen some fantastic rugby. We have seen a record number of tries, we have seen a record number of points, and it has been due to very positive rugby in the most part, due to some very positive refereeing too.The officials have been part and parcel of the games that we have seen. It has been a very, very enjoyable tournament.
What about Georgia as a team and as hosts?
The atmosphere in the Georgian games has been something special. It has been an honour and a privilege to actually be in the crowd. Having commentated on the first game at Avchala Stadium for the second and third games I went round the other side to sit in the crowd and the passion is unbelievable. We saw that replicated at the Meskhi for the last two games.
The win over Argentina was unbelievable. The try by the scrum-half Gela Aprasidze (see above) was just … well, I immediately thought of Phil Bennett and to a man everybody on the commentary gantry stood up to clap that try. Now when you have got quality like that in the Georgian team they are going to be progressing up the ladder and that of course is the message that we have heard from Georgia in our time here. They want big, they want to get better, they want to be in the mix and in the upper half of the table and from what we have seen through the course of the last 19 days that is only be a step away.
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