Dawie Theron and Brenden Venter will have seen their lives flash before there eyes a number of times at the Cape Town Stadium yesterday, as their patchwork SA Under 20 side at first faltered, before rallying in the second half to record a resounding win over the England juniors. In picking up a try bonus point in the 28-15 win, the Junior Springboks booked a place in the semi-finals of the IRB Junior World Championship in the process.
Not that the 10 000 or so who poured into the stadium would have had much indication of the final result at half time, though. With the Bokkies getting smashed up front and their set piece in disarray, it was the English who took a 3-0 lead into the break and with just 40 minutes left to play, most fans justifiably felt that a win itself was most unlikely, far less so the bonus point required to prevent yet another JWC collapse for South Africa. Theron had been forced to rejig his side just before kick-off, with tournament captain Wiaan Liebenberg crying off injured, replaced at blindside flank by Sharks lock Pieter-Steph du Toit.
To say that the pack that started the match was bested by the English would be somewhat of an understatement. Props Steven Kitshoff and (particularly) Oliver Kebble were under the cosh at scrum time, whilst hooker Jason Thomas wouldn’t have been able to find his line-out jumpers even if he’d had a GPS device. Some shrewd front-row replacements on the half hour mark, though, seemed to stem the tide, with Maks van Dyk and Mark Pretorius taking over from Kebble and Thomas respectively, but it was undoubtedly the half-time team talk that proved instrumental in this win.
Simply put, the Junior Springboks came out a different side and proceeded to play with a direction , purpose and accuracy that belied their frankly non-existent first-half showing. Stand-in skipper William Small-Smith set the tone with a great try 2 minutes into the half, with flanks Shaun Adendorff and du Toit going on to steal the show from there. Adendorff played a truly massive innings, scoring twice in the half, with the other going to du Toit who began to relish the unaccustomed blind side flank role as the pack started to settle. Locks Paul Willemse and Ruan Botha also deserve much praise for their robust, yet controlled play in the second half that saw both regularly set up as ball-carrying targets to bash their way over the English defence.
It may have been the forwards scoring the bulk of the tries, but to underestimate the role the backs played – particularly on defence – would be massively unfair. After a hesitant performance against the Irish in the opening round, it was Sharks centre Paul Jordaan – playing in the unfamiliar right wing position – who led the charge and turned the English back time and again with accurate and effective tackles, while his former schoolmates Small-Smith and Jan Serfontein followed his example. While Adendorff walked away with the plaudits – and deservedly so – I think the records need to show that the SA Under 20 side would not have won on this day without the efforts of Paul Jordaan.
The Junior Springboks will now play Argentina in the semi-finals, with Wales and the All Blacks set to clash on the other side of the draw.
South Africa under-20: Tries: Shaun Adendorff (2), Pieter-Steph Du Toit, William Small Smith; Conversions: Handre Pollard (4).
England under-20: Penalties: Tommy Bell (5)