New Zealand have escaped with a 14-10 win against a spirited Australian side in their second pool match of the 2013 IRB Junior World Cup.
The Baby Blacks had most of the dominance for the first half, playing an expansive game and creating numerous chances to ensure the Australians were constantly under pressure. However, they were unable to convert this dominance to the scoreboard, crossing for just one try and kicking three penalties.
This enabled them to take a 14-3 lead into the break, but it could have been so much more had the last pass stuck a few more times, as they certainly created enough opportunities.
The second half saw the tables turn, and it was New Zealand who were forced to do most of the tackling as Australia applied constant pressure and enjoyed a monopoly on territory.
But like the Baby Blacks in the first half, the Australians were unable to make this dominance count for as much as it should have, crossing for just one try, effectively ending their tournament.
Both teams were guilty of failing to score after turning down shots at goal. Australia especially will rue these lost chances, as a more sensible approach to these situations could have seen the game play out in a completely different way.
It was the New Zealanders who looked to play a more attacking game, running from everywhere and using the offload to great effect to keep the ball alive in contact. The first half saw them do this effectively, but they were not clinical enough—and despite threatening often, made too many mistakes to convert this into points.
The Australians improved as the game progressed, turning over too much ball and kicking poorly early, which gave the dangerous New Zealand back three ample opportunities to counter. However, they did improve this and made use of their strong forward runners in the second half, which gave them momentum, and New Zealand began conceding penalties.
But the Baby Blacks were able to defend well enough, and in what was perhaps a lucky escape, came away with a close win.
Best for New Zealand was Joe Webber, who constantly threatened on the counter from fullback, running dangerously and making break after break. His kicking game was superb too, clearly well on multiple occasions, carving off 50 metres easily with his clearance kicks. He combined well with his other outside backs, Fa'asiu Fuatai and Penikolo Latu, who made the most of their touches. Both looked dangerous with ball in hand.
First five-eighth Simon Hickey steered them around the field well and won the kicking battle, while Jason Emery too had his share of nice touches, making a few incisive runs and getting away a few offloads to put his outsides into gaps.
Up front, Ardie Savea stood out, running aggressively and tackling strongly to make sure his team always got the better of the contact situations. His work rate was very high, and he came up with a handful of crucial turnovers, including the pivotal one in the dying stages when the game was on the line.
Joe Edwards was much the same, playing the enforcer role of the team, while Epalahame Faiva popped up all around the field and was prominent in the tight-loose.
New Zealand will now progress to take on Ireland in a battle to claim the top spot in their pool and progress to the semifinals.