Junior Boks edged in JWC semi-finals

19 June 2013

The South African under-20 rugby team suffered a heart-breaking last-gasp loss to Wales by a single point, 18-17, in the semi-finals of the IRB Junior World Championship on Tuesday at Stade de la Rabine, in Vannes, France.

While the Baby Boks didn’t produce their best form on the day, the Welsh should be given credit for some of that. They were, however, a trifle lucky to progress after their first try, scored by captain Ellis Jenkins, was controversially allowed when it was clear that he had knocked on in the act of scoring.

There was no mention of the try at the end of the match, though, with the closest to anyone commenting on it coming from South Africa’s coach Dawie Theron, who said: “The luck, with the bounce of the ball, went with the Welsh today and the next time it’ll go to us. We’re definitely not happy about losing, but we can keep our head high. And we’re going to work for the next game.”

Late try

Even then, Theron’s comment was likely about the way the ball sat up for right wing Ashley Evans in the 79th minute as he ran onto a chip into the South African 22, gathered and crashed over to score.

“Unbelievable, it is a bit surreal at the moment,” Welsh skipper Ellis Jenkins said after the game. “That was tense.

“We knew it would take something special to break the defence and Sam [Davies] has dropped that kick on the money for Ash to go over in the corner and then stepped up, nerves of steel, and slotted it from the touchline.

Jenkins also praised the Welsh tight five and admitted it had been a very physical outing. “Everything hurts, but we played a very good game of rugby. We had our chances and we knew if we stuck to our game plan we would score tries and we did, just in the nick of time.”

Goal kicking

What hurt the South African team was something that had been a little overlooked earlier in the tournament as they won their three pool matches: goal kicking. Handre Pollard, who was so good in 2012 when South Africa won the title, was off target with three out of four penalties when just one more successful kick would have made all the difference.

More than that, though, the Baby Boks were also at fault for not converting some of their chances. “We had our opportunities in the game,” coach Theron told the IRB.

“I think there was at least two tries that we could have scored. I think maybe the guys were a little bit anxious in the moment. And, I must lift my hat to the Welsh. They really stuck to their kicking game. They had a very, very well prepared kicking game. They kept us in the corners. We couldn’t get out of our half. In the end, the bounce of the ball made the difference.”

‘We gave it our best’

Captain Ruan Steenkamp echoed Theron’s sentiments when he said: “We gave it our best effort, but on the day it was not enough. They did their homework on us and never allowed us to create a platform for our backline.

He added: “The boys are extremely disappointed because we are all very proud to represent our country. We have one more match left to play and we will lift ourselves and play with pride. The defeat will hurt for a while, but we have our next match on Sunday and we will play as best as we can.”

That next match will be against New Zealand, who were beaten 33-21 by England in the second semi-final. South Africa had defeated England, the Six Nations champions, 31-24 in pool play.

Knowing that must rub a little salt into the Baby Boks’ wounds, but will also give them confidence that they have what it takes to beat the Kiwis.

Only South Africa and New Zealand have previously won the Junior World Championship, so this year’s winners will be first-timers and the first team from the northern hemisphere to lift the silverware.

PLAYOFFS

  • 11th Place Play-Off: Fiji vs USA
  • 9th Place Play-Off: Samoa vs Scotland
  • 7th Place Play-Off: Australia vs Ireland
  • 5th Place Play-Off: Argentina vs France
  • 3rd Place Play-Off: South Africa vs New Zealand
  • Final: Wales vs England
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