The Junior Boks secured a 40-31 bonus-point win against France to progress to the semi-finals of the World Rugby U20 Championship. MARIETTE ADAMS reports.
South Africa, who qualified as the best runners-up, will next face England, with Ireland taking on Argentina in the other semi-final. New Zealand failed to progress to the last four for the first time in the tournament's history.
Going into the final round of pool matches, only Ireland and Argentina had already qualified for the knockout stage, with the four big nations – New Zealand, England, Australia and South Africa – vying for the other two semi-final spots. But with the Baby Blacks unable to secure the bonus point in their victory over Wales, SA U20 needed a bonus-point win against France to advance. And while they did get the desired result, the Junior Boks had to graft hard for it.
France were the superior side for large parts of the match, but the SA U20s played with more purpose and zest in the final quarter, despite their dysfunctional set piece, to score 15 quick-fire points.
The Junior Boks had plenty of possession in the opening 10 minutes of the match, but played too far behind the gainline. By contrast, France made full use of their first scoring opportunity when lanky lock Mathieu Tanguy dotted down after their first visit inside the opposition 22.
The try was converted, before two solid strikes by Curwin Bosch sparked a mini-comeback by the South Africans, who scored 13 unanswered points. The try came from livewire scrumhalf Embrose Papier, who sniped around the fringes before beating two big tacklers to dot down.
France, though, were not deterred. With their devastating forward dominance, they scored 17 unanswered points to leave the Junior Boks trailing 24-13, before star flank Zain Davids burrowed over from close range to narrow the gap to six.
The second half was an entirely different affair as the Junior Boks ran France off their feet, almost completely taking their forwards out of the game.
Winger Edwill van der Merwe made a scathing break two minutes after the restart and while it yielded no points, he scored soon after when Bosch and flyhalf Manie Libbok launched a superb counter-attack. Van der Merwe took a pop pass from his No 10, cut inside and sped away from the defenders for a converted effort that gave the SA U20s a 25-24 lead.
France then lost their way and once they were reduced to 14 men for foul play, the Junior Boks cashed in. Libbok and Bosch both scored brilliant attacking tries down the right flank, before the latter slotted a penalty to make the game safe for his side.
Replacement wing Gabriel Ngandebe crossed for a late consolation effort for France, but by then the Junior Boks were in a celebratory mood.
Junior Boks – Tries: Embrose Papier, Zain Davids, Edwill van der Merwe, Manie Libbok, Curwin Bosch. Conversions: Curwin Bosch (3). Penalties: Bosch (3).
France U20 – Tries: Mathieu Tanguy, Michaël Simutoga, Romain Buros, Gabriel Ngandebe. Conversions: Anthony Belleau (4). Penalty: Belleau.
Junior Boks – 15 Curwin Bosch, 14 S’busiso Nkosi, 13 Jeremy Ward (c), 12 JT Jackson, 11 Edwill van der Merwe, 10 Manie Libbok, 9 Embrose Papier, 8 Junior Pokomela, 7 Cobus Wiese, 6 Zain Davids, 5 Eli Snyman, 4 Ruben de Villiers, 3 Carlü Sadie, 2 Jan-Henning Campher, 1 Franco van den Berg.
Subs: 16 Tango Balekile, 17 Nicolaas Oosthuizen, 18 Jaco Holtzhausen, 19 Ernst van Rhyn, 20 Denzel Hill, 21 James Hall, 22 Franco Naude, 23 Keanu Vers.
France U20 – 15 Romain Buros, 14 Elliot Roudil, 13 Anthony Belleau, 12 Damian Penaud, 11 Alexandre Nicoue, 10 Romuald Seguy, 9 Antoine Dupont, 8 Anthony Jelonch, 7 Kevin Kornath, 6 Matthieu Voisin, 5 Mathieu Tanguy, 4 Florian Verhaeghe, 3 Michaël Simutoga, 2 Etienne Fourcade, 1 Clément Castets.
Subs: 16 Péato Mauvaka, 17 Elias El Ansari, 18 Emerick Setiano, 19 Théo Hannoyer, 20 Alexandre Roumat, 21 Baptiste Couilloud, 22 Atila Septar, 23 Gabriel Ngandebe.
Photo: Oli Scarff/Getty Images