26 June 2013
Junior Springbok coach Dawie Theron believes this year’s squad, which claimed the bronze medal in the IRB Junior World Championships (JWC) on Sunday, has laid a good foundation for next year’s tournament.
South Africa lost only one of their five fixtures at the tournament, in the semi-finals against Wales, who won by a single point with a last-gasp converted try.
Ruan Steenkamp and his team mates comprehensively outplayed the USA in their first match and defeated England and France in their remaining pool fixtures to finish top of Pool A.
The young South Africans then suffered a heartbreak last-minute loss against Wales, which meant they had to battle traditional rivals New Zealand for the bronze medal.
They found themselves 0-21 down early in the playoff for third place, but showed plenty of spirit to fight back and win 41-34 against the four-time champions.
Very tough assignment
Coach Theron, who is in his third year in charge of the SA under-20 team, rates the JWC tournament as one of the toughest international rugby assignments.
“You must play five extremely competitive matches in just 18 days, which is a massive ask,” Theron said.
“The standard of play is very high because teams such as SA, New Zealand, England, Wales, Australia and France have a great percentage of players who are professionals.
“These players are aspiring to take the next step as senior professionals, and they are being coached by fulltime professional coaches,” he added.
Although the Junior Boks failed to defend the title they won in 2012, Theron said he feels the selection process and system of talent identification aimed at assembling a competitive South African under-20 team are delivering dividends.
“Apart from the loss against Wales, we managed to beat New Zealand and England twice in two years, and we defeated France in front of their own fans.
The tension during the French game was enormous and the players told me afterwards they could hardly hear the calls because of the amount of noise inside the stadium,” Theron said.
“I regard these victories as vital stepping stones for the team, because New Zealand were dominating the competition just a short while ago, while England are so dominant in the Six Nations. I believe we took a big step forward in our approach and method of play against these powerful teams,” Theron said.
‘Very good working relationship’
“There is also a very good working relationship and understanding between our High Performance and Development Departments, the provincial coaches and the selection.
“The next step now would be to increase our level of mentorship of those young players once we have identified them,” he said.
A major consideration for the future is to create more playing opportunities for the Junior Springboks before they actually play in the JWC tournament, Theron said.
“We definitely need more time together as a playing unit before the start of the JWC. However, I am satisfied that we have laid a good foundation for a new squad team because we will have the likes of Handre Pollard, Aidon Davis, Rohan Janse van Rensburg and Jessie Kriel all still eligible for next year.”
SAinfo reporter and SA Rugby