AUCKLAND, New Zealand (AP) — England came from behind to snatch an eight-point lead then held out a desperate South Africa 21-20 to retain its junior rugby world championship title at Eden Park on Friday.
South Africa, world champion two years ago, led 10-3 after 19 minutes but England scored 18 points in 15 minutes on either side of halftime to open a 21-13 lead.
Their rally began with a 55-meter penalty to fullback Aaron Morris and included tries to winger Nathan Earle and replacement Joel Conlon.
The Junior Boks then came back with a 64th-minute try to center Jesse Kriel - his second of the final - to cut England’s lead to one point. England found the strength to hold out South Africa for the last 16 minutes to claim back-to-back world titles.
South Africa dominated the early stages of the final, depriving England of lineout ball and playing an expert kicking game to keep their opponents pinned within their own territory.
After an early exchange of penalties, they took a 10-3 lead in the 19th when flyhalf and captain Handre Pollard put a pinpoint kick behind the England defense and Kriel ran onto a favorable bounce to score.
Morris launched England’s fightback with a superb penalty from within his own half in the 36th, and England seized the lead, 11-10, just before halftime with a try to Earle.
Flyhalves Billy Burns and Pollard again exchanged penalties at the start of the second half, then England gave itself an eight-point lead with Conlon’s try in the 51st.
England reversed South Africa’s set-piece dominance in the second half, disrupting its scrum and finally getting its hands on a share of lineout ball. It was able to balance the territorial ledger and coolly converted its tryscoring chances.
South Africa put itself back in the match with Kriel’s second try in the 64th but couldn’t come up with the winning play. Pollard’s attempted dropped goal in the 72nd drifted just wide of the posts.
“It’s an amazing feeling. We’ve worked so hard. Joy and tribulation,” England captain Maro Itoje said.
“This has been a fantastic tournament for us. Our boys have worked so hard and we got our just desserts, thank God.
“We believed if we stayed true to our principles, stayed to the plan we would do well and we did, we won.”
Pollard admitted South Africa let control of the match slip.
“We fought hard but we weren’t up for it tonight, we weren’t good enough,” he said. “We played the kicking game well but they were good at set-piece. They disrupted us a bit there and that’s where we start all our plays.”
England beat Italy, Australia, Argentina and Ireland to reach the final while South Africa beat four-time champion New Zealand in pool play and again in the semifinals.
New Zealand beat Ireland 45-23 to take third place.
England 21 (Nathan Earle, Joel Conlon tries; Billy Burns conversion, 2 penalties; Aaron Morris penalty), South Africa 20 (Jesse Kriel 2 tries; Handre Pollard 2 conversions, 2 penalties). HT: 11-10.