14 June 2013
The South African under-20 team secured a place in the semi-finals of the IRB Junior World Championship after a hard-fought 26-19 victory over hosts France in a Pool A match played at at Stade Henri Desgrange in La Roche-sur-Yon on Thursday evening.
After England, a team South African later beat, defeated the French 30-6 in their first pool match, some might have expected an easier contest for coach Dawie Theron’s charges, but it was far from that as the home team produced a tigerish display in front of their own supporters.
“We knew that the French would be passionate and very committed because they had so much to play for. They were lifted by a fantastic crowd and gave it their all,” coach Theron said after the match.
“However, I am proud of the effort by each of my players because the win is what mattered most, and we deserved it in the end. Our guys stood firm, made some vital tackles and in the end we clinched it with a great try by Cheslin Kolbe.”
Reflecting on the match, South African captain Ruan Steenkamp commented: “They disrupted us from the start and forced us into mistakes. We could not get the momentum that we wanted, but we showed a lot of bravery and heart out there.
“We played much better towards the end, especially during the last 10 minutes. I am just relieved that we managed to beat them because they are a dangerous team. We will now regroup and prepare for the semi-final.”
The win left the defending champions undefeated after their pool games and seeded second for the semi-finals, based on their pool points and points’ difference.
Four-time winners New Zealand qualified as the top seed and were also joined in the final four by Wales and England, who claimed the final place as the best of the runners-up, just ahead of Ireland and Argentina.
South Africa will take on Wales in the semi-finals, with New Zealand up against Six Nations champions’ England.
Began with a bang
Thursday’s evening match began with a bang for the Baby Boks when centre Dries Swanepoel sliced throught the French defence to open the scoring in the first minute.
Shortly afterwards, for the first time in the tournament, however, South Africa trailed in a game when an intercepted pass led to Thibault Regard going over for France. A successful conversion put the hosts ahead.
In the 14th minute, the first of four Handre Pollard penalties (he landed four of six in the game) then put the South Africans back in the lead by a single point. The score was the same at half-time time, 8-7 in favour of the green and gold.
Early in the second half, Cheslin Kolbe, one of the stars of the championship with his mazy, elusive runs from fullback, set up Luther Odi to score in the corner and a Pollard conversion made it 15-7. Three minutes later he added a penalty to put the champions 18-7 clear.
Far from beaten
France, however, were far from beaten and they struck back when eighthman Marco Tauleigne went over in the corner. The French then took the lead with a converted try from Baptiste Serin.
Down 19-18, South Africa hit the front once more six minutes after that when Pollard slotted another penalty.
Finishing strongly, the Baby Boks dominated the last 10 minutes of the contest and Kolbe signed off with a mesmerising run to cross untouched for a try.
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