In the first of a returning series, DYLAN JACK rewinds to the 2009 U20 World Championship and looks at what happened to the bronze-winning Junior Springboks.
The Junior Springbok class of 2009 had just three players – flyhalf Francois Brummer, lock Cornell Hess and captain Robert Ebersohn – in their 26-man squad for the World Championship in Japan that had played in the previous year’s tournament in Wales.
Among the squad were future Super Rugby players in fullback Clayton Blommetjies, scrumhalf Rudy Paige, flyhalf Lionel Cronje, centre Johan Sadie and wing Gerhard van den Heever, while Ross Cronje, Rynhardt Elstadt and CJ Stander would go on to play Test rugby.
The Junior Boks were placed in Pool C in the tournament, alongside France, Fiji and Italy. With comfortable wins in all three of their pool games – which included a 43-27 victory over France – South Africa topped the pool.
However, a tough semi-final against England, where the Junior Boks were reduced to 14 men after losing Rynhardt Elstadt to a red card in the second half, had Eric Sauls’ side suffering a 40-21 loss.
In the third-place playoff, the Junior Boks bounced back and claimed a 32-5 victory through a brace of tries from Lionel Cronje to go with scores from Van den Heever and Stokkies Hanekom.
Blommetjies made two appearances in the 2009 Junior World Championship before returning to the Vodacom Blue Bulls and playing for UP-Tuks in the Varsity Cup until 2014. Blommetjies would help UP win a Varsity Cup double in 2012 and 2013 and then joined the Cheetahs for his first stint in Bloemfontein in 2014.
In Bloemfontein, Blommetjies became a fan favourite and quickly sealed a place as the team’s starting fullback, helping them into the PRO14 playoffs in 2018. He then decided to join the Scarlets, but would struggle for game time in Wales, making just a handful of appearances before he was loaned to the Leicester Tigers.
After finishing his short loan spell in England, Blommetjies decided to return to Bloemfontein for his second stint with the Cheetahs and helped the team win the Currie Cup in his first season back in 2019.
Cronje, who scored 29 points in four appearances for the Junior Springboks, would go on to have a journeyman senior career after the 2009 World Championship. After leaving the Cheetahs for the Stormers at the end of 2009, Cronje would also play for the Bulls in 2012 and Lions in 2013.
He then made his first overseas move to the Brumbies in 2014 and made 10 Super Rugby appearances, scoring 32 points. Cronje returned to South Africa after joining the Sharks for their Currie Cup campaign and was part of the Durban side’s Super Rugby squad in 2015.
After being released by the Sharks, he joined the Southern Kings in 2017 and also earned a contract in Japan with Top League side Toyota Verblitz, where he currently plays.
Internationally, Cronje was part of the South Africa A side that played against a touring French Barbarians team in 2017.
Cronje played in all five of the Junior Springboks’ games during the U20 Championship, scoring one try. Following the Championship, Cronje returned to the Sharks and played for the Durban team until the end of 2011, when he decided to join the Lions.
During his time in Johannesburg, Cronje helped the Lions regain promotion to Super Rugby and was part of the team that made the Super Rugby final in 2016, 2017 and 2018. Currently, Cronje has made over 100 senior appearances for the Lions and earned 10 Springbok caps across 2017 and 2018.
The twin brother of Junior Bok captain Robert, Sias Ebersohn shared the kicking duties with Francois Brummer during the U20 Championship and scored 70 points. After the Championship, Ebersohn was quickly promoted to the Cheetahs senior team and made over 50 appearances for his boyhood team, scoring 220 points.
In 2013, Ebersohn moved to Australia to join the Western Force. During his time in Perth, he made 43 appearances, scoring 212 points between 2013 and 2015. He returned to the Cheetahs after the 2015 Super Rugby season and played in the Currie Cup that year.
However, after making just a single appearance for the Cheetahs in 2016, Ebersohn moved to the Pumas for his final stint in 2017. After the 2017 season, he retired from all rugby to become a farmer in the Hartswater area.
The captain of the Junior Boks in 2009, Ebersohn had already been playing for the Springbok Sevens team and had played in the 2008 U20 Championship. 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.
Nicolaas ‘Stokkies’ Hanekom
Hanekom played five times for the Junior Springboks, scoring two tries. After stints with Griquas, Western Province and the SWD Eagles, he moved to the Lions in 2013, where he would play the majority of his senior career.
Making a name as a pacy, hard-to-tackle centre, Hanekom was part of the Lions team that won the 2015 Currie Cup. He was then loaned to the Kings in 2017 and last played for Roodepoort Rugby Club in the Gold Cup.
Mastriet scored three tries for the Junior Springboks in 2009, including a memorable brace against France in the pool stages. After the tournament, he moved to the Blue Bulls and played for UP-Tuks in the Varsity Cup.
During this time he also played for the Blitzboks and was part of the squad that took part in the World Cup Sevens in Moscow in 2013. After returning to fifteens, Mastriet moved to the Lions in 2015, but struggled for regular game time and joined the Kings in 2016.
He last played club rugby in Spain for El Salvador.
Sadie played four games for the Junior Springboks, scoring one try. A highly rated centre, he decided to move from Western Province to the Bulls as he faced stiff competition in his position from Springboks Jean de Villiers, Jaque Fourie and Juan de Jongh.
However, Sadie struggled to get regular game time in Pretoria and managed to make only 10 Super Rugby appearances. He then decided to join the Cheetahs, where he rediscovered his top form, scoring five tries in the 2013 Super Rugby season.
After the 2015 Super Rugby season, Sadie moved to France after accepting an offer from Agen, where he currently plays and has made close to 100 appearances.
Gerhard van den Heever
Another highly rated prospect, Van den Heever scored three tries in four games for the Junior Springboks. Following Bryan Habana’s departure from the Bulls, Van den Heever was installed as the team’s new No 11.
After scoring 12 tries in 31 Super Rugby appearances, Van den Heever moved to the Stormers in 2011. However, he struggled to replicate his form in Cape Town, scoring just two tries between 2012 and 2013.
Van den Heever then had a three-year stint with Munster, before he moved to Japan, where he joined Yamaha Jubilo and the Sunwolves. He currently plays in the Top League for the Kubota Spears.
Omphile ‘Tom’ Seabela
A speedster wing, Seabela scored a brace of tries in the Junior Springboks’ 65-3 pool stage win over Italy.
After the tournament, 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 currently works as chairman of Motlagang Construction in Pretoria.
The former SA Schools captain made four appearances for the Junior Springboks in 2009. After his senior debut for the Lions in the Vodacom Cup, Paige joined the Bulls in 2012, where he would play most of his career.
After a brilliant 2015 Super Rugby season with the Bulls, Paige was called up to the Springbok squad for the Rugby Championship and thereafter included in the 2015 World Cup squad, making his Test debut when he replaced Fourie du Preez against the USA.
Since then, Paige made a total of 13 Test appearances, 10 of them from the bench, with his last Springbok game coming against Italy in 2017.
After he was left out of the Bulls’ Super Rugby squad in 2018, Paige joined the Cheetahs on a short-term contract. A stint in France with Clermont followed, before he moved to the Sunwolves and starred for the Japanese team in the 2020 Super Rugby season.
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.
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