Billy Burns saluted the grit and guts of his England Under 20 teammates after they held off a determined comeback from South Africa to win the IRB Junior World Championship final 21-20 and secure back-to-back titles in Auckland.
Having stormed back from 21-13 down thanks to Jessie Kriel’s second try, the Baby Boks laid siege to the England line as the clock ran down.
However, the holders could not be broken down again and a determined forward effort saw Nick Walshe’s charges hold onto possession for the last two minutes before winning a scrum.
Burns – whose brother Freddie starts for Stuart Lancaster’s senior side against the All Blacks tomorrow – then booted the ball into the Eden Park stands to seal a superb win.
Speaking afterwards, the delighted Gloucester Rugby fly half was full of praise for his pack.
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“The South Africans came at us hard and it could have gone either way but we showed that character,” he explained. “Full credit to the forwards for digging it out at the end.
“It was an outstanding effort and we have worked hard all campaign and to come out with a gold medal in the end is a massive achievement.
“We always believe in ourselves and no matter what position we are in on the field we feel we can find a way out of it.”
Burns landed two penalties from the tee to go with a second-half conversion and was locked in a high-quality kicking duel with South Africa’s impressive No.10 Handre Pollard.
Paying tribute to his rival, who won the IRB Junior Player of the Year award, Burns tried to let England’s feat sink in.
“We won it last year but it was a different squad so we had no title to our name. To come out here to win it back-to-back in the southern hemisphere was a massive achievement and one that we will enjoy for sure.”
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Overcome with pride, head coach Walshe echoed those sentiments.
“It just is an incredible achievement and I can’t really explain it. Last year it was special because it was the first, this year it is special because of where we are and what it means and how we have played. It’s been phenomenal.
“I have massive respect for the South Africans – they are a fantastic side and that is why it is such a massive achievement to beat them.
“They played really good physical rugby and scored a couple of good tries, especially the last one. You know it is a huge, huge battle when you play South Africa.”