11 June 2013
South Africa, the defending champions, are on course to top their group at the IRB Junior World Championship, after defeating Six Nations champions England 31-24 in a hard-fought Group A match at Stade Henri Desgrange in La Roche-sur-Yon, France on Sunday.
In their first outing, South Africa overran the USA 97-0 and next face hosts France, losers by 30 points to six in their first match against England, and 45-3 winners over the USA on Sunday.
The tournament format sees three groups of four teams competing for places in the semi-finals. The group winners plus the next best finisher from the three groups go through to the final four. With two wins out of two, South Africa is pretty much assured of a place in the semis.
Speaking after the victory over England, “Baby Bok” skipper Ruan Steenkamp told the IRB: “This was a must-win for us and definitely the boys were up for it, but there is still work to be done and we are excited for the next one.
“What pleased me, I think, was our kicking game. Against USA we were running the ball a lot, but especially in this game we turned them around with our kicks, and that was definitely great for us.”
Coach Dawie Theron’s charges dominated the first 20 minutes of the contest and despite a couple of missed penalties raced into a 21-0 lead, with Seabelo Senatla, the scorer of four tries against the USA, going over for two more against the English.
It looked as if it would be one-way traffic, but England regrouped and a converted try by the Six Nations champions just before the break reduced the deficit to 21-7.
Immediately after the restart they signalled their intention to take the game to South Africa in the second half by working an excellent try, scored by Elliot Stooke and converted by Henry Slade, to make it 21-14.
The Baby Boks’ reply was almost instant as towering flanker Jacques du Plessis crashed over for a try, which Robert du Preez converted, to make it 28-14.
Then, a wonderful counter-attack by South Africa saw Senatla sent clear for his third try, but it was disallowed after a linesman signalled a high tackle from a South African to the referee, and what would have been a comfortable 35-14 lead became a far less convincing 28-17 advantage after Slade landed the resulting kick at goal.
Buoyed, England forced the defending champions onto the back foot and Henry Purdy went over for another try for the men in white, but Du Preez landed a further penalty to ensure a South African win.
The English must be commended for their never-say-die commitment and they certainly asked some hard questions of the Baby Boks, enough to suggest that the two teams could meet later in the tournament.
‘A very good win’
“We made a very good start but did not manage to capitalise on it. This was a very good win against an English team that have won the Under-20 Six Nations and have played much longer together as a team,” South Africa’s coach Dawie Theron said afterwards.
“I am disappointed that we did not keep our discipline in the second half, but there were also some decisions made which were out of our control and influenced the play in the second half. We will now regroup and prepare for our next match against France, who will no doubt be a difficult customer in front of their home fans.”
England eighthman and captain Jack Clifford, who turned in a powerful performance, commented: “Obviously [we are] massively disappointed with the result. All credit to South Africa they played really well and our boys really stuck in it till the end.
“It really came down to it in the end. The last few plays we were really going for it but South Africa pulled away and won.”
South Africa next’s game, against France, will be played on Thursday.
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