France, despite being without three players who flew to England to make their debuts for Catalans Dragons in the Super League on Friday night, held on to defeat England 26-24 in the U19 European Championship at the Makis Stadium in Belgrade.
In the preceding games; Wales won the plate in the third place game, defeating Scotland 42-18; Serbia claimed the shield, overcoming Ireland 36-24; and Italy were victorious in the Bowl, triumphing 58-6 over Ukraine.
England staged a dramatic fightback with two late unconverted tries when trailing 26-16, but were just unable to overcome the French in a superb title decider. The sides were locked at 10-all at the break, France centre Matthieu Leguerre opening the scoring, Thimothe Bertrand with the goal.
England responded with tries through skipper Curtis Teare, scoring in his third consecutive game and Gary McMahon, who converted his own effort but the French were level at half time with Louis Carre crossing, Bertrand missed the conversion and a drop goal attempt as the whistle blew.
Pierre Jean Lima put the French ahead early in the second half after a great run by winger Guillaume Gorka and Leguerre claimed his double, Bertrand goaling both and adding a penalty to make it 24-10. Teare stepped clear after a five man passing move to give England hope, McMahon goaling, but another Bertrand penalty maintained a ten point margin going into the final stages.
With three minutes to go, Callum Wood sent in Elias Harrison, the extras missed and, with the final play, Calum Coleman’s arrowed kick was pounced on by Liam Kenyon in the corner but McMahon could not add the levelling conversion, England finishing with five tries to four.
France general manager Florian Chautard commented: “It is a magnificent achievement by this team. It was very nerve-racking at the end when we saw England come back, but the win is just rewards for all the hard work put in by this squad.”
“We worked hard all game and figured out their system but gave ourselves too much to do at the end,” said England head coach Allan Coleman, “The lads are really disappointed but it’s still a great achievement by this squad and I couldn’t be prouder of the boys.”
Wales came from 18-6 down to dominate the second half against the Scots. The young Bravehearts started brightly, skipper Archie Andrade opening the scoring, Luke Punton with the goal. Lewis Hall replied for the Welsh, converting his own score but Elliott Campbell and winger Tim Kennedy added tries for Scotland before half time, Punton adding the extras to both.
Wales dominated the second period, adding six tries all through different scorers as they continually looked to spread the ball. Billy Glover and then Cobi Green racing clear from the base of a scrum brought them level, wingers William Lynch and James Smith, Macauley Harris and Fraser Stroud with their other touchdowns. Hall was perfect with the boot landing seven goals and finishing with 18 points.
Wales head coach Anthony Walker said: “I’m very proud of my boys and their response after the England game. We never panicked even when we went behind and our players showed great character to get back into the game. Winning the plate is a great achievement.”
According to Scotland general manager Alex Chandler: “We let them back into it and then the heads dropped, which left us at the mercy of their attack. We still look at this tournament as a success on every level as it’s the highest Scotland have finished in this competition and every player has got something out of it.”
Hosts Serbia won silverware as they defeated Ireland in a terrific game that could have gone either way. Serbia were indebted to skipper Vladimir Milutinovic, the second rower superb throughout and finishing with 20 points from two tries and a perfect six goals.
Centre Zane Bijorac also claimed a brace of touchdowns, hooker Jai Smith and, in the closing minute, Matija Mihajlovic with Serbia’s other touchdowns. Ireland led 10-6 and 24-22, full back Ryan Curran their star with two tries – including a stunning length of the field effort – and four goals, winger Andrew Smyth also claiming a try double.
“We prepared well for this, the boys needed to win for a bit of self-belief,” said Serbia head coach Neil Bijorac. “I was happy with our start but a few errors crept in. To our credit, we corrected them and scored some good tries at the end.”
Ireland general manager Conor Kelly noted: “We’re very disappointed and there’s a sombre mood in the camp. The lads gave it everything and the score line is a bit flattering as I think we were the better team for a lot of the game. We can still take positives, this was the first time this group of lads had played together so to see them constantly bounce back is superb.”
Stand off Davide Arena scored two tries and six goals for Italy as they swept aside Ukraine. The Azzurrini led 30-0 at the break, half back partner Nico Rizzelli with a second half hat trick.
Italy coach Riccardo Dodi commented: “Our game plan worked, we had more freedom to move the ball making less mistakes in attack, so we were more effective.”
Opposite number Ihor Yurkin was far from despondent. “This has been a real learning process and we will take it forward into future tournaments. Italy were strong but we showed great pride.”