The smiles are firmly back on the faces of English rugby supporters after they won the World Rugby U20 Championship 2016 on the same day that the senior team completed a 3-0 series whitewash of Australia.
England captivated a sell-out crowd at the AJ Bell Stadium in Manchester with a breath-taking performance that saw them score three tries in each half to beat battling Ireland 45-21.
Argentina claimed third place, their best finish in the tournament’s history, in the third place play-off against former winners South Africa, while dethroned champions New Zealand had to settle for fifth after coming out on top in a high-scoring encounter against Oceania rivals Australia.
Six Nations Grand Slam champions Wales also ended the tournament on a high with a 42-19 victory over Scotland earning them seventh place, while France finished in ninth thanks to a 27-24 win over next year’s hosts Georgia.
Italy survived at this level for at least another year after seeing off Japan, who have been relegated to the World Rugby U20 Trophy in 2017.
FINAL: IRELAND 21-45 ENGLAND
Harry Mallinder produced a man-of-the-match performance to lead England to a 45-21 victory over Ireland in the final of World Rugby U20 Championship 2016 at the AJ Bell Stadium on Saturday.
The England captain and fly-half joined Joe Marchant in scoring two tries and he also landed five conversions and a penalty on a night when the hosts outplayed first-time finalists Ireland.
Ireland rallied well in the second half after trailing 21-0 at the break but they were left with too much to do against an England side who have enjoyed a remarkable turnaround in fortunes under head coach Martin Haag.
Haag acknowledged the role played by Premiership talent such as Mallinder, Marchant and centre Johnny Williams in turning England from U20 Six Nations also-rans into world champions.
"There were some outstanding individuals that came into the team to help it along. The individuals became a team and they bonded really well over the last few weeks. These guys have a bright future together, they've made friendships and some bonds that will last forever and it's superb," he said.
"The performance tonight was outstanding. We adapted well to the transititon between attack and defence and the way they handled the 80 minutes was a credit to the guys."
England dominated territory and possession from the off and took the lead when Marchant crossed after a brilliant run to the line from 30 metres out.
Number eight Callum Chick added a second before second-row Huw Taylor was up in support to benefit from slick interplay between Mallinder and Williams. With Mallinder converting all three tries England were 21-0 up and flying.
Ireland needed the first score of the second half to stand a realistic chance of mounting a repeat of the comeback that saw them defeat England in the Six Nations, but lovely handling again from midfield duo Williams and Marchant put Mallinder in for his first try two minutes after the restart.
Adam McBurney gave Ireland hope when he dotted down from close range but the joy was short-lived as Mallinder received a return pass from second-row Stan South to canter over the line.
Daly then had the crowd on its feet after he finished off Jacob Stockdale’s brilliant counter-attacking run from deep with a try in the corner.
Stephen Kerins’ yellow card just before the hour mark stymied Ireland’s progress, however, and it was game over when Marchant gathered in a cross-field kick from Mallinder at pace and spun out of the attempted tackle for England’s sixth try.
World Rugby U20 Championship 2016 Player of the Tournament Max Deegan grabbed a consolation try at the death but it was England who were left celebrating their third title in four years.
"We felt we were beaten by the better side. They were very clinical, any chance they got they took and, at 21-0 down at half-time, it was always going to be an uphill battle," said Ireland coach Nigel Carolan.
"I’m extremely proud of the way these guys have conducted themselves over the last three and a half weeks, it’s been an immense tournament for them."
THIRD PLACE PLAY-OFF: ARGENTINA 49-19 SOUTH AFRICA
Captain Juan Cruz Mallia led from the front as Argentina recorded their best ever finish in U20 Championship history.
Mallia scored a hat-trick and fly-half Domingo Miotti enjoyed a virtually flawless afternoon with the boot as Los Pumitas claimed third place ahead of the shell-shocked Junior Springboks.
Early tries from electric backs Manie Libbok and Edwill van der Merwe suggested that head coach Dawie Theron would be given a winning send-off after six years in charge of the Junior Springboks.
When Jan-Henning Campher crossed for another, after Los Pumitas’ centre and captain Mallia had pulled five points back, South Africa led 19-7 with 22 minutes gone.
But Mallia’s second from an intercepted pass sparked a remarkable run of 37 unanswered points from Los Pumitas to the delight of their vocal band of supporters.
Replacement Mariano Romanini was first to cross in the second half and Miotti added the extras before landing two penalties, the second from nearly halfway.
Hooker Gaspur Baldunciel and number eight Facundo Dominguez crossed from close range as Argentina put the game out of South Africa’s reach. Winger Julian Dominguez then butchered a try when he dropped the ball over the line, before Mallia scored his third in stoppage time.
FIFTH PLACE PLAY-OFF: AUSTRALIA 24-55 NEW ZEALAND
Jordie Barrett produced a man-of-the-match performance as New Zealand turned on the style to overcome Oceania rivals Australia.
Barrett was heavily involved with ball in hand, and also kicked 15 points, as New Zealand scored some scintillating tries despite being under the pump at scrum-time.
The game was still in the balance as the game approached the hour mark but the dethroned world champions found an extra gear to run in four tries in the final quarter to win with ease.
Forwards were responsible for all but one of the tries in a stop-start first half that frequently involved TMO Trevor Fisher and ended all square at 21-21.
Marino Mikaele Tu’u, Hapakuki Moala-Liava’a and Quinten Strange crossed for New Zealand with Australia replying through Campbell Magnay, who finished off an attack from deep, Faalalie Sione and a penalty try.
Nick Jooste and Barrett traded penalties at the start of the second half but the game-changing moment came when the Australian fly-half's attempted dink over the top of the onrushing defence fell into the arms of Isaia Walker-Leawere and the replacement strolled home from 25 metres to put New Zealand in front again.
Rather than concede ground following Sean Paranhi’s sin-binning on 59 minutes, New Zealand stepped up a gear and their handling was a joy to watch.
Barrett’s ability to fire out flat mis-passes stretched Australia time and time again and tries from Asafo Aumua, Patelesio Tomkinson and Jonathan Taumateine put the gloss on the victory.
SEVENTH PLACE PLAY-OFF: SCOTLAND 19-42 WALES
Wales proved too strong for Scotland as they won 42-19 to finish seventh at the World Rugby U20 Championship.
It is their joint worst finish at the Championship, while Scotland equalled their best having also finished eighth 12 months ago.
The Scots flew out of the blocks but could not make their early possession count, and were punished after 11 minutes by Jarred Rosser, a sign of things to come as Wales showed great potency in attack.
Dillon Lewis added their second and, despite Adam Hastings impressing as Scotland hit back, Wales scored the next three tries, including one of the tries of the tournament through Jarrod Evans and two immediately after half-time in as many minutes, meaning Scotland were never really in the match.
Hooker Lewis Anderson crashed over the line after a sustained period of attack for Scotland to reduce the deficit to 23 giving them a glimmer of hope but it was not to be despite a second of the half from Alex Craig following another break from the impressive Hastings. Joe Gage added Wales’ sixth to finish the tournament on a high.
NINTH PLACE PLAY-OFF: GEORGIA 24-27 FRANCE
France held off a spirited Georgia side to finish ninth at the World Rugby U20 Championship, their worst ever finish at the competition.
Despite the loss, Georgia will head into next year's tournament as hosts safe in the knowledge they will have garnered some new fans over the past five match days with some powerful running rugby.
Les Bleuets started the match brightly with some great interlinking play down the right wing resulting in a try from left-wing Gabriel Ngandebe. With the conversion and a later penalty slotted by Anthony Belleau, Georgia were reduced to 14 men after Otari Giorgadze was sent to the sin bin, but managed to claw back three points through a penalty from scrum-half Gela Aprasidze, making it 10-3 to France at half-time.
With the momentum in France’s favour, replacement Antoine Dupont added three points before second-row Theo Hannoyer charged off the back of a maul to go over. The additional two points from Dupont left Georgia trailing 20-3 with under 20 minutes remaining. However the powerful Georgian scrum that has caused issues for every side they’ve faced in their debut tournament, forced a penalty try shortly after, but Dupont again dampened the comeback with a great scything run to score and convert.
At 27-10 and with five minutes remaining, Giorgadze made up for his earlier yellow card with a quick tap on the France five-metre line to bundle over. Aprasidze added the extras before Luka Goginava smashed his way through the French defence from close range to score Georgia’s last try before the final whistle.
11TH-PLACE PLAY-OFF: ITALY 41-17 JAPAN
After surviving by the skin of their teeth in the 2015 edition of the tournament, Italy comfortably staved off the threat of relegation from World Rugby U20 Championship 12 months on with a convincing 41-17 win over Japan in the 11th-place play-off.
A brace of tries apiece from winger Andrea Bronzini, hooker Marco Manfredi and number eight Giovanni Licata saw Italy maintain their top tier status. Japan, however, will now be replaced by this year’s World Rugby U20 Trophy winners Samoa at the U20 Championship 2017 in Georgia.
After Taisetsu Kanai’s sixth-minute penalty had given Japan a 3-0 lead, Italy scored when Bronzini got on the end of a well-executed cross-field chip from fly-half Leonardo Mantelli. Manfredi added a second from a driven lineout, before Japan gave a glimpse of their attacking potential when good hands set Tomoya Yamamura on a 50-metre run to the line.
Italy had the final say of the half when flanker Giovani Pettinelli burst down the blindside off the back of an advancing scrum. Pettinelli found Mantelli, who gathered in his own grubber kick, after some suspect defending, to put Italy 20-10 up at the break.
The second half was largely one-way traffic as Italy dominated the physical battle, Licata brushing aside some weak tackling to score twice in the space of nine minutes. Licata’s opposite number, Tevita Tatafu, grabbed a late consolation for Japan while Italy were down to 14 men following a yellow card to Luca Sperandio but it was too little, too late.