The Junior Springboks U20 Championship chances remained intact as they closed the lid on the Ireland U20 Team’s campaign on Sunday. The game – played under grey skies in Stade D’Honneur Du Parc Des Sports Et De L’Amitie, Narbonne – was to all intents and purposes a semi-final for the Pool C hopefuls. Ireland had gone down to France on the previous Wednesday, meaning it was a must win to remain in the running for a wildcard spot at the playoffs.
New Combinations tested
A new halfback combination was in the starting lineup for Ireland. Junior Bok coach, Chean Roux, also made four changes with two of them being due to injury. Asenathi Ntlabakanye came into the front row for Sazi Sandi who moved to the bench. In the back, Muller du Plessis started on the left wing and Lyle Hendricks came into the midfield, joining Wandisile Simelane.
Preparing for Ireland’s Game Plan
Chean Roux said on Saturday they made the changes in lieu of the game plan they expected from Ireland. “Ireland are a territory driven team and they like to dominate with their forwards in the lineouts and scrums. We need to come to the party in this game and hopefully we can do that.”
That hope may have been tested when the Baby Boks lost their star fly-half, Damian Willemse, to an knee-injury early in the second half. Early indications are that he will be out for between and four and six weeks. So it may very well be the end of his individual campaign. For most of the first half, the Junior Boks struggled with their discipline and defense. They notched up nine penalties in the first half and lost PJ Steenkamp to a yellow card after receiving a team warning from the referee. They also missed twice as many tackles as the Irish.
Irish show guts and determination
The Irish captain, Caelan Sweetman-Dorris, played phenomenally from the eight-man spot, breaking tackles in the midfield regularly. The Junior Boks retained composure and worked off their set-pieces for the full eighty minutes. “From the start we said it was going to take eighty minutes of hard work” said Wandisile Simelane after the game. “So I’m glad that the boys worked very hard and eventually pulled it off. So I’m very proud of the boys.” Simelane scored a hat-trick himself, but credited it to ‘just finishing off the hard work the forwards and inside backs put in‘ for him.
The Baby Boks maintained their forward dominance even after swapping out their loose-head and tight-head props in the last quarter of the match. As the match hooter loomed, the Irish became nervous and made more handling errors. In the end, the Junior Boks beat them comfortably with a final score of 30-17. Goal kicking may become a headache for their coach as Gianni Lombard’s accuracy was extremely poor after taking over from Willemse.
One more scalp left
On Thursday, the final pool games will see the Junior Boks take on the hosts, France. Both teams have won their games so far, making this the pool decider. The World Rugby U20 Championship playoffs start with a Semi-Final, therefore only the top seed teams in each pool will go through. One wildcard spot is available for the next team in the fourth spot on the overall log. If the Junior Boks lose against the hosts, they may still be able to make it to the semis, assuming they get the losing bonus-point from that game.