25 June 2012
South Africa’s challenge at the IRB Junior World Championships started off with a shock defeat to Ireland. On Friday evening at Newlands in Cape Town that was a distant memory as the Baby Boks beat four-time defending champions New Zealand 22-16 to become world champions.
“It was definitely a dream come true, it was awesome and it was great to see the hard work we put in finally come off for us,” captain Wian Liebenberg told the IRB after final.
“It was a tough match. We said we wanted to take them on in their set pieces and mauls and I think that’s what we did tonight; we took them on in the core phase of rugby.”
He added: “We said in the team that we wanted to be able to tell a story and make history, and I think that’s what we did tonight for our country.”
Coach Dawie Theron was very emotional and thrilled after his charges’ victory. “It’s unbelievable,” he said.
“This is the best rugby experience of my life and I played for the Springboks for 13 tests, and I must say that was very, very special, but this moment, words can’t describe it.”
Paying tribute to his players, Theron continued: “You can see what it meant to the guys, especially after the first loss against Ireland, and they carried the whole weight of the nation on their shoulders. Under pressure two things can happen, you can either scatter apart or you can gel together and become like a rock.”
The cherry on the top for South Africa came after the match when centre Jan Serfontein was named IRB Junior Player of the Year.
‘A team effort’
“It’s a really awesome feeling. It hasn’t struck me yet. I think tomorrow the reality will come. This was really a team effort. Anyone of us could have got this prize, so it was hard work and team spirit that pulled us through,” he said.
For those supporters with a lengthy knowledge of Springbok rugby, it would have been an immensely satisfying victory because, as alluded to by SA skipper Liebenberg, it was well and truly set up by a traditional South African strength, dominating play in the set pieces.
Emphasising that dominance was a rolling maul that New Zealand was never able to counter and which put the hosts on the front foot time and time again.
Bryn Hall, the New Zealanders’ gracious captain, said afterwards: “I think their lineout drive was really good. We just couldn’t stop it.
“We talked about it at half time, but unfortunately we couldn’t execute it. That’s where they got all their front foot ball, so maybe if we could have stopped that we would have got a different outcome.”
A match worthy of a final
Played in front of 33 000 spectators, the largest crowd in IRB Junior World Championships history, it was a match worthy of a final, with each thrust being responded to with a counter-thrust, and in the end the statistics were very even excepting for two: penalties conceded and possession.
It was in those two facets that South Africa’s forward dominance was apparent as the Kiwis conceded 14 penalties to seven, and the Baby Boks controlled the possession stakes 61 percent to 39 percent.
Despite their advantage up front, the home team had to be on their toes to deal with the incisive counter-attacking of the Baby Blacks, with fullback Martin McKenzie a standout for the defending champs.
Flyhalf Ihaia West was composed and influential too, but, in Paarl Gym schoolboy Handre Pollard, South Africa had a number 10 who was every bit as composed, making the right decision time after time.
A decisive impact
Outside of Pollard, Serfontein had a quiet first half, but he made a decisive impact in the second stanza. Pollard’s halfback partner Viaan van der Watt enjoyed an excellent outing, thanks to the outstanding platform laid on by the forward pack.
As a unit, the front row combination of Steven Kitshoff, Mark Pretorius and Nic van Dyk outplayed their New Zealand counterparts and, on a number of occasions, overpowered them.
Locks Paul Willemse and Ruan Botha were solid in the lineouts, not conceding a South African throw-in, and while the Baby Blacks were also good on their own ball, they were unable to match the quality of the South African ball, which was often taken forward with devastating effect in a maul.
Pieter-Steph du Toit, who started the tournament at lock against Ireland, finished it at flank against the Kiwis and was one of the star performers of the final.
Sounded a warning
From the opening kickoff, South Africa sounded a warning to the defending champions when they powered their way 25 metres up the field with a maul before it was brought to ground illegally by New Zealand, giving the home team the first penalty of the contest.
Liebenberg and company opened the scoring in the 10th minute when they drove the Baby Blacks back from a lineout. New Zealand once again responded by sacking the maul illegally and a penalty was given to South Africa. Pollard converted it from wide on the left to put South Africa 3-0 ahead.
New Zealand responded by surging onto the attack and only a fine tackle by Serfontein prevented the men in black from going over in the left hand corner.
Liebenberg then charged down an attempted drop goal, but South Africa had strayed offsides and West duly punished them with a penalty, making it 3-3.
South Africa had an opportunity to kick at goal shortly after that, thanks to another collapsed maul by New Zealand, but instead opted to kick for the corner because the referee had tired of the Kiwis’ persistent hauling down of the drive and put them on a warning.
Held up over the line
After winning the lineout and taking the ball through many phases, Liebenberg had an opportunity to score, but he was held up over the line. New Zealand were, however, penalised for being offsides and this time Pollard knocked over the easy kick to put the home team back in front.
West could have pulled the Baby Blacks level with a penalty in the 26th minute, but his effort hit the upright and stayed out.
Six minutes from halftime, though, West’s quick throw-in to a lineout began what would become the first try of the contest. Fullback McKenzie broke back towards the touchline and made plenty of ground before passing inside to hooker Nathan Harris. He drew the final tackler before passing back outside to winger Milford Keresoma, who raced in for the try.
West added the extras to put New Zealand 10-6 ahead.
Straight from the restart, South Africa put the Kiwis under pressure when Tshotsho Mbovane charged down an attempted clearance. From the resulting lineout, New Zealand was penalised for holding onto the ball on the ground after an attempted drive had been stopped.
Pollard stepped up and coolly kicked the ball between the uprights to make it South Africa 9, New Zealand 10 at the break.
Just four minutes into the second stanza, New Zealand had an excellent opportunity to move further clear of South Africa. A clever kick by scrumhalf Hall to the corner was fumbled by Mbovane and after some frenetic play the home side was forced to touch down behind their try line.
The Baby Blacks had the put in only five metres out, but South Africa produced a monster scrum, powering the New Zealanders back and ploughing over the top of them before the referee awarded a penalty to the men in green and gold, who celebrated with high-fives and roars. It proved to be a decisive moment in the match.
South Africa’s first try
Shortly after that, big Pieter-Steph du Toit made a break down the left. After he was finally brought down, the Baby Boks forced a number of rucks until the ball squirted loose on the left. Scrumhalf Van der Watt toed it through and was the first to dive on it. The television match official recognised that and South Africa had their first try.
Pollard’s conversion from wide on the left missed, but the hosts were back in front at 14-10.
It became a one-point game eight minutes later when Du Toit was pinged by the referee for holding onto the ball. West knocked over the kick from inside the South Africa 22 and there was once again almost nothing in it.
Just before the hour-mark, the only black mark on an otherwise fantastic game of rugby occurred when lock Paul Willemse and prop Ofa Tu’ungafasi were both given their marching orders, Willemse for pulling Tu’ungafasi’s long hair, and Tu’ungafasi for retaliating with a couple of punches.
It hardly broke the tempo of a spellbinding contest, but rain accompanied the departure of the two big men.
In the 60th minute, the referee had his arm out, ready to award South Africa a penalty after another sacked lineout, but it wasn’t necessary to award it as Pollard, knowing he would be afforded a second shot at goal should he miss, brilliantly landed a long range drop goal.
More to celebrate
Only two minutes later, there was more to celebrate for the Baby Boks when Serfontein followed up a high-up-and-under and regained possession. The ball was released to Mbovane on the left, who showed some fancy feet before the ball made its way to Pollard.
The 18-year-old, showing excellent awareness of where the space was, threw out a long pass to the right to Liebenberg. He made good ground before passing to eighthman Fabian Booysen on the right hand touchline. Booysen then offloaded back inside to Serfontein, the man who had started the attack.
Spinning out of an attempted tackle and with a number of players trying to drag him down, the centre forced his way over the line, much to the approval of the very patriotic crowd.
Pollard’s conversion missed the mark, but victory was in sight for South Africa at 22-13 ahead.
Within a converted try
The contest was far from over, however, and New Zealand drew within a converted try of the win five minutes from time when West slotted an easy penalty from right in front of the posts after strong pressure from the defending champions.
In the last minute, South Africa had another chance to move out of the seven-point range, thanks to yet another maul taken to the ground by the New Zealanders. Pollard was off target with his kick, but he made sure it flew over the dead ball line, which forced the Kiwis to kick in from the 22 with only 10 seconds left.
South Africa gained possession from the kick and drove the ball up before Mbovane kicked it into touch to seal victory.
For the first time in five IRB Junior World Championship tournaments, New Zealand failed to lift the title. This time it belonged to South Africa.
Fiji 19-17 Italy
Scotland 62-28 Samoa
England 17-13 Australia
Ireland 18-7 France
Wales 25-17 Argentina
South Africa 22-16 New Zealand
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