23 June 2014
The Junior Springboks returned to South Africa on Sunday after finishing runners-up to England in the IRB Junior World Championship in Auckland. The future of South African rugby is bright, coach Dawie Theron told the media on his return.
Apart from the heart-breaking 20-21 loss to England, the Junior Boks enjoyed an outstanding 2014. They achieved a first ever whitewash, 3-0, series win over Argentina. Then, at the Junior World Championship, they finished finished first in Pool C after wins over Scotland, New Zealand and Samoa, followed by another defeat of the Baby Blacks (South Africa’s fourth win in a row over the New Zealanders at under-20 level) to reach the final.
Sharing the same hotel with the New Zealanders served his team well, Theron reckoned.
“The players could deal with them face-to-face every day, and the manner in which the guys handled it, with maturity, it is praiseworthy. We are all friends off the field anyway in rugby, and it was probably two of the most titanic battles ever fought at junior level – against New Zealand in New Zealand and with all that backing that they had. I was just so proud of the guys,” said Theron.
The Junior Bok coach said the two big clashes with Kiwis, plus a bruising encounter with Samoa in difficult, wet conditions eventually took its toll on his team in an exhausting final.
“The matches against New Zealand were must-win situations and then the final against a good England side [was very taxing],” he explained.
“Perhaps it was the mental fatigue, and we didn’t show the same patience that we did against New Zealand.
“We lost a vital ball that we knocked-on from an attacking scrum and if we had to score there, then it was 17-3 for us and it would’ve been a different ball-game. Handre Pollard also tried his best and just missed with two drops goal. However, a final is a final, and it brings other things to the table.”
Theron said every one of the Junior Springboks was immensely proud of their captain, Pollard, being awarded the IRB Junior Player of the Year 2014 prize after he led his team superbly at the Junior World Championship.
“Handre is just getting better and the whole team is unbelievably proud of him,” Theron said.
“He was a wonderful skipper with wonderful leadership qualities. Although we did not win the tournament, it was just a great experience for him with his teammates. The guys had an unbelievable spirit and I think they won’t ever forget each other.”
Eligible for 2015 JWC
Theron said nine players who did duty in New Zealand will be eligible for the next Junior World Championship, which takes place in 2015 in Italy. They include the Du Preez twins, Dan and Jean-Luc, Joseph Dweba and the highly rated DHL Western Province duo of Jacques Vermeulen and JD Schickerling.
Towering lock Schickerling was one of the outstanding forwards on display during the three-week tournament in Auckland.
‘A born rugby player’
“You could play him (Schickerling) at six, seven or eight and he would play just as well,” reckoned Theron. “He is a born rugby player, he is a footballer,” he grinned.
“We played Nico (Janse van Rensburg) at five as he is more experienced, but JD can play there and learned from Nico, so he can make the calls next year. We are also busy with a development plan, so we are growing JD, and I don’t think there was a better four lock around either.
“Overall, we lost one of nine matches this year. Unfortunately, that was during the Junior World Championship final and it was by a single point against the defending world champions.
“Although we just fell short of our goal, South Africans can be very proud of the effort, conduct and commitment of these youngsters,” Theron said.