At a time when South African rugby is calling out for something to celebrate, the Junior Boks have an opportunity to illustrate that the future is bright, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
In September, the highly anticipated World Cup in Japan will roll around, and as is the case in every four-year cycle, great expectations will follow the Springboks’ every move.
However, this June, a little appetiser will be served when the Junior Boks head to Argentina for the World Rugby U20 Championship.
The Junior Boks haven’t managed to emerge triumphant at this annual tournament since 2012. Last year they stuttered through the pool stage, but were only just edged by England in their semi-final, and then managed to overcome New Zealand in the third-place playoff.
Once again, Chean Roux will coach the side as the Junior Boks search for a spark that was missing at times during the buildup to this year’s U20 tournament. Preparations began with a 58-10 victory over Georgia, with industrious No 8 Francke Horn stealing the show as he ran in four tries. While the scoreline somewhat belied the hard-fought nature of that encounter, it was an important victory when one considers that Georgia and the Junior Boks are grouped in Pool C for the U20 Championship.
From there, Roux’s charges claimed a comfortable 50-8 victory over a Namibia XV, but then came the first warning signs as the Junior Boks slipped to a 34-33 defeat against Argentina in Stellenbosch. It was a performance Roux would describe as ‘substandard’ and ‘ill-disciplined’.
However, it was also part of a steep learning curve for the youngsters, who next fell to a heavy 35-8 defeat to England in the first of two overseas tour games in April. Again, the Junior Boks found themselves outmuscled and outplayed, with a lot of questions left to be answered as the team headed into a final pre-tournament clash against Wales.
Once more, flanker Phendulani Buthelezi led the team into action, with Roux opting to test a couple of new combinations. As it turned out, the Junior Boks would importantly demonstrate an enduring fighting spirit to overturn a 17-point half-time deficit and clinch a thrilling 35-31 victory with a last-gasp try.
This is the landscape preceding the Junior Boks’ challenging pool schedule that will see them tackle Scotland (4 June), Georgia (8 June) and New Zealand (12 June) at this year’s U20 Championship.
Indeed, there is little room for error in the quickfire tournament, which was largely dominated by England and eventual champions France in 2018.
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