Title holders New Zealand confirmed their top seeding in the IRB Under 21 World Championship by defeating England with ease in the opening round match at Netherdale on Friday night (11th June).
The junior All Blacks, packed with classy players, and so much better than European opposition, had too much pace and skill for England and in the end their five to one try advantage merely ratified this gap.
For England this was a tough but necessary match as manager Peter Drewett acknowledged.
"We have to play at this level to learn what it's about. The good thing is that we have three days to prepare for our next match," he said.
England found themselves in arrears after only three minutes following a penalty kick by New Zealand fly half Luke McAlister, punishing England for handling in the ruck.
Then a further set-back for England as New Zealand struck from a penalty-created lineout, with McAlister providing the spark with a smartly executed loop move before number eight Jerome Kaino popped up on his shoulder to send skipper Ben Atiga racing in for a try. McAlister added the conversion.
A second penalty goal by McAlister put New Zealand ahead by 13-0 but what seemed an unstoppable procession of points for the junior All Blacks was halted dramatically as England found their scoring touch.
Quins fly half Adrian Jarvis did the damage by splitting the New Zealand defence with a superb pass to send Andy Reay in for a try under the posts, which Jarvis converted.
Encouraged by this score, England's forwards began to play an increasingly more dominant role and when Jarvis was presented with a kickable goal, the subsequent success on half-time - just reward for an impressive second quarter - left England three points behind (13-10) New Zealand at the interval.
New Zealand, however, were not prepared to see their lead evaporate and showed their determination after the break with a period of continuous possession and 12 phases of play that ended with Auckland Blues number eight Jerome Kaino pounding in for an unstoppable try.
McAlister added the conversion to put his side 20-10 ahead and it seemed New Zealand would quickly add to their points tally as multiple attacks were launched. However, England's defence resisted and with it came territorial gains.
Then when the Kiwi's strayed offside in their own twenty-two, substitute Bradley Davies kicked the penalty to bring England within seven points of their opponents. A fifth successful kick by McAlister quickly restored New Zealand's ten points advantage.
England tried to counter but as the pace of the game increased their handling became faulty and when a backline moved faltered New Zealand fastened on to welcome possession, transferring the ball swiftly to Rudy Wulf for the winger to outpace the English defence to the line.
Substitute Tii Paulo forced his way over for a fourth New Zealand try and with McAlister adding the conversion it was all over for England who could only watch in despair as McAlister showed his running skills to carve out a try for Kaino, again converted by the stand-off.
England Under 21: Delon Armitage (London Irish); Marcel Garvey (Gloucester), Chris Bell (NEC Harlequins), Andy Reay (NEC Harlequins), James Bailey (Gloucester); Adrian Jarvis (NEC Harlequins), Clive Stuart-Smith (Worcester) captain; Nick Wood (Gloucester), Stuart Friswell (Leicester Tigers), Tom Warren (Worcester), James Percival (Worcester), Chris Day (Sale Sharks), Luke Narraway (Gloucester), Tom Rees (London Wasps), Ben Russell (Saracens)
Replacements: Cameron Dott (NEC Harlequins) for Friswell 72, Tom French (London Wasps) for Warren 65, Geoff Parling (Newcastle Falcons) for Russell 74, Chris Cracknell (NEC Harlequins) for Rees 65, Bradley Davies (Gloucester) for Jarvis 56
New Zealand Under 21: G. Horton; T. Koonwaiyou, B. Atiga, T. Ellison, R. Wulf; L. McAllister, P. Weepu; J. Schwaiger, J. Pareanga, J. Afoa, C. Clark, J. Ryan, G. Naoupu, J. Poff, J. Kaino
Replacements: T. Paulo for Pareanga 76, B. Franks for Schwaiger 62, K. Haiu for Clark 60, N. Williams for Naoupu 76, T. Morland for Weepu 76, B. Smith for Ellison 50
During week commencing 22nd April Harlequins will launch an innovative, new Membership Scheme which will replace the existing Season Ticket Holder Programme. Further details of the scheme will be announced in due course.