It was the kind of stuff a happy ending Hollywood movie is made of. The Baby Boks needing a 4-try bonus point win to advance to the semi-finals of the u20 Junior World Cup looked to be done and dusted by half-time at which time they seemed lucky to only be down 3-0. An amazing transformation occurred after half-time and the Boks played with the spirit fitting of the Green and Gold jersey to not only win the game but achieve what seemed like an almost unattainable 4 tries.
In the first half Bok lineouts bordered on being pathetic, they were dominated by the powerful England scrums, disciple at the breakdowns left much to be desired and the backline movements lacked spark. Apart from outstanding defence where x-factor attacker Paul Jordaan stood out, little else was going right for the South Africans.
At least this time round coach Dawie Theron had the presence of mind to see a situation for what it was and replaced the struggling tighthead Oliver Kebble with Maks van Dyk in the 28th minute.
A never-say-die attitude can take anyone far in life and for the Baby Boks applying that mindset for the next 40 minutes worked wonders. It also helped that England’s only motivation coming into the match was to secure a losing bonus point which effectively translated into losing by fewer than 8 points.
By the 48th minute the Baby Boks were halfway towards their goal. 2 well taken tries were the result of things starting to work. The first was a result of a clean break by stand-in captain Willa Small-Smith, who ran at full tilt onto a perfectly placed flat pass from the gritty Jan Serfontein and then showed some wheels to hold off closing in defenders long enough to get over the chalk. Flank Shaun Adendorff was next to score, thanks to excellent carries by both Paul Willemse and never tiring Steven Kitshoff, that laid the platform for the former Glenwood player to muscle his way over from a ruck on the line.
But the 14-6 lead was soon chopped to 14-12 as England continued to play a high percentage game, avoiding any risks.
The momentum was gradually changing though . The Baby Boks were now playing like a team with good cohesion. Scrums stabilised, reserve hooker Mark Pretorius returned some much needed accuracy to the lineout set-piece. Big bruising carries and continuity from rucks, where halfback Vian van der Watt’s express service kept the tempo up and the go-forward in motion, all paved the way for the breaking down of the English defence. Ruan Botha, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Willemse had all stepped up their game and were very influential in the drives. England subs failed to bring the same kind of purpose and control as the players they replaced while Theron avoided going to the bench.
From an attacking ruck deep in the England red zone, a pass didn’t go to hand but Botha calmly collected the ball off the ground and fed it to du Toit, who in turn put in a massive hand-off to force the opening to the tryline. He dived over and Paarl Gim’s schoolboy flyhalf Handre Pollard added his third conversion to give SA a 21-12 and the hard to believe dream of a place in the semis from just 20 odd minutes earlier was now a distinct reality.
The home team continued to apply the pressure and when Jordaan’s second attempt at get passed the defensive first line succeeded thanks to his swerving dart, it was the impressive Adendorff that was on hand to collect the pass made off the deck and race in for the vital bonus point try that put the Baby Bok’s place in the knock-out round beyond reasonable doubt.
28-15 is how it finished.
It was the kind of performance that temporarily restores self-belief in the South African junior rugby system as well as the coach system and turns players that risked being labeled as zeroes into heroes.
Well done to the Baby Boks! Next up Argentina. Good luck boys!