Where are they now: 2008 Junior Springboks (Backs)

In the third part of a returning series, DYLAN JACK rewinds to the inaugural 2008 U20 World Championship and looks at what happened to the bronze-winning Junior Springboks.

The very first U20 Championship, which replaced the traditional U19 World Championship in 2008, took place in Wales between from 6-22 June.

However, the Junior Springboks were able to keep continuity in their squad, with 16 players who formed part of the 2007 South Africa U19 squad being named in the 2008 squad lead by loose forward Gerrit-Jan van Velze.

Included in the squad were three players who had already played for the Springbok Sevens – Juan de Jongh, Robert Ebersohn and Wilton Pietersen – as well as two youngsters with Super 14 experience: Stephan Dippenaar and Francois Hougaard, who had already made their debuts for the Vodacom Bulls.

The Junior Springboks were in Pool B with Samoa, Scotland and the United States. However, they managed to top their group comfortably, after demolishing the USA (108-18) and Scotland (72-3) before battling to a 16-11 win over Samoa.

In the semi-finals, the Junior Springboks met an England side with the likes of flyhalf Alex Goode, scrumhalf Joe Simpson and tighthead prop Alex Corbisiero, but fell to a 26-18 defeat.

That had the Baby Boks facing Wales in the third-place playoff, where a brace of tries from Lionel Mapoe, to go with scores from Francois Brummer, Robert Ebersohn, Nick Koster and Frik Kirsten, gave South Africa a 43-18 win.

New Zealand were named inaugural champions after beating England 38-3 in the final in Swansea.

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Cecil Afrika

Following the tournament, where he made four appearances and scored one try, Afrika would go on to become the most celebrated Springbok Sevens player of his generation.

Afrika made his sevens debut in Dubai in 2009 and played for the Blitzboks for 12 seasons, making 66 tournament appearances. He was part of two World Series-winning Blitzbok squads (2017 and 2018), as well as the South African team that won Commonwealth Games gold (2014) and Olympic bronze (2016) medals.

Afrika was named World Rugby Sevens Player of the Year in 2011 and retired in 2020, having scored 1,462 points for the team.

He is currently involved in a small business with two of his former teammates, Kyle Brown and Philip Snyman, establishing the Eighteen Coffee brand, one of their first ventures.

Wilton Pietersen

A wing with immense potential, Pietersen had already been part of the Springbok Sevens team when he was named in the U20 squad in 2008.

After the tournament, Pietersen became a regular starter for the Cheetahs in the Currie Cup before he picked up a serious knee injury in the early months of 2009. Just as he was on the verge of a comeback Pietersen was involved in a serious car accident in Bloemfontein which put him in a coma and looked like it would all but end his professional rugby career.

However, he managed to work his way back on to the field and played in the Varsity Cup for Wits in 2014.

Pietersen then returned to Cape Town, where he currently works in the financial services industry and plays club rugby for SK Walmer.

Omphile ‘Tom’ Seabela

A speedster wing, Seabela also played for the Junior Springboks in the 2009 U20 Championship in Japan.

He played for UP-Tuks in the Varsity Cup and for the Bulls in the Vodacom Cup. In 2012, he moved to France with CA Pontarlier.

He worked as chairman of Motlagang Construction in Pretoria, but tragically passed away during a hijacking last year.

Vainon Willis

Able to play at wing and fullback, Willis played four times for the Junior Springboks in 2008. He then returned to the Bulls and played for the TUT Vikings in the Varsity Cup before making his senior Bulls debut in the Vodacom Cup in 2009.

During his time with the Bulls he also played for UP-Tuks in the Varsity Cup and helped them retain their title in 2013.

A loan to the Pumas followed and after Willis struggled to break into the Bulls’ senior squad he had short spells with the Leopards and Boland before he joined the Lions in 2014.

After helping the Lions win the Currie Cup, Willis retired from rugby in 2015. Since then, he has had roles with the Vodacom Bulls as a technical analyst and with SuperSport as a commentator.

Lionel Mapoe

Regarded as one of the brightest backline talents of his generation, Mapoe, who scored five tries for the Junior Springboks in 2008, would have a successful provincial career with the Cheetahs, Lions and Bulls before he moved overseas to join Stade Francais in 2019.

Mapoe would also represent South Africa on the sevens scene and won 14 Test caps for the Springboks between 2015 and 2018. Having played most of his senior career at the Lions, Mapoe made over 100 appearances for the Johannesburg side, helping them into three successive Super Rugby finals between 2016 and 2018.

The 32-year-old currently plays club rugby for French side Stade Nicois.

Robert Ebersohn

Ebersohn would take over the captaincy of the Junior Springboks in 2009, where the team also finished third.  After the Championship, Ebersohn would make his Super Rugby debut for the Cheetahs in 2010 and he quickly sealed a place as the team’s outside centre.

Known as a player who consistently punched above his weight, Ebersohn made over 100 appearances for the Cheetahs and his form earned him a call-up to a Springbok training squad in 2013.

However, Ebersohn decided to move to France at the end of 2013 after accepting a contract offer from Montpellier. During his two years with the team, Ebersohn made 44 appearances, scoring five tries.  In 2016, Ebersohn moved to Castres and made over 50 appearances for the team, captaining them in 2019. He currently plays for Beziers in the ProD2 competition.

Juan de Jongh

Another player who has gone on to have a very successful senior career, De Jongh would make over 50 appearances for Western Province, helping them win the Currie Cup in 2012 and 2014, while also making close to 100 appearances for the Stormers, helping them into the Super Rugby final in 2010.

Internationally, De Jongh was already part of the Springbok Sevens side when he played for the Junior Springboks. His second stint with the Blitzboks came between 2015 and 2017, during which he helped the side win a bronze medal at the 2016 Olympic Games. De Jongh made his Springbok debut in 2010 against Wales and to date has won a total of 19 Test caps, with his last appearance against the All Blacks in Durban in 2016.

De Jongh currently plays in the English Premiership for Wasps, who he joined in 2017.

Stephan Dippenaar

Following the tournament, Dippenaar returned to the Bulls, where he would play a crucial role in the team’s Currie Cup title win in 2009. He also featured prominently in the Bulls team of 2010, when they won their third Super Rugby title.

In 2012, Dippenaar joined the Springbok Sevens set-up in 2012, making his debut for the Blitzboks in Wellington, New Zealand in the 2012-13 season. He was selected to play for the Springbok Sevens in 31 tournaments, played in 124 matches and scored 240 points (42 tries). He last featured in both tournament wins in Sydney and Las Vegas during the 2016-17 World Rugby Sevens Series, won by South Africa.

After a number of injuries, Dippenaar retired in 2017 and joined his family farming business near Moorreesburg in the Western Cape.

Stefan Watermeyer

A highly rated player as a schoolboy, Watermeyer represented South Africa at U18, U19 and U20 levels. Watermeyer played most of his senior career for the Bulls and Pumas, while he also had stints with the Ospreys and Griquas.

In 2016, Watermeyer joined the Southern Kings for their Super Rugby campaign and made 12 appearances for the team. He then retired from all rugby after the Kings were kicked out of Super Rugby after the 2016 season.

Francois Brummer

Brummer first played for the Junior Springboks in 2008 and made the squad again in 2009, scoring a total of 105 points. After the tournament he continued to play for the Bulls and was named Vodacom Cup Player of the Tournament in 2011.

However, after a lack of starting time he moved to Griquas and became the team’s first-choice flyhalf until 2015. During this time, he also had stints with the Cheetahs and Pumas, before he rejoined the Bulls on an initial loan in 2016.

Brummer then took up a contract in Japan with Toyota Industries Shuttles before moving to Italian PRO14 side Zebre in 2018. During his time in Italy, he shifted between fullback and flyhalf and scored 33 points.

He was released from Zebre in July 2020.

Francois Hougaard

Hougaard spent eight seasons with the Bulls between 2008 and 2015, helping the team win the Currie Cup in 2009 and Super Rugby in 2010, scoring a try in both finals. During his time in Pretoria, he was also played at wing, while Fourie du Preez continued to start at scrumhalf.

Internationally, Hougaard has played 46 Tests for the Springboks to date, representing South Africa at the 2011 World Cup. He also played for the Blitzboks in the 2015-16 sevens season and won a bronze medal at the 2016 Olympic Games.

In 2016, Hougaard joined the Worcester Warriors in the English Premiership on an initial short-term contract, which was quickly made permanent. To date, Hougaard has made 81 appearances for the English side, scoring 70 points, but he has been linked with a sensational return to the Bulls.

Dewaldt Duvenage

Duvenage joined Western Province in 2008 from Boland and would go on to play 51 times for the team, winning the Currie Cup in 2012. He also played 67 times for the Stormers.

In 2013, Duvenage had his first stint overseas with Perpignan in the French Top 14, before he returned for his second stint with Western Province, adding a further 16 caps to his tally.

In 2018, he then moved to Italy with Benetton Treviso and helped the team make the PRO14 playoffs for the first time in the 2018-19 season.

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Photo: GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP via Getty Images

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Dylan Jack