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If knockout rugby was meant to be tense and tactical, the hosts left the manual at home in a one-sided IRB Junior World Championship semi-final last night at Newlands. The Baby Boks surged past Argentina 35-3 to set up a dream final against four-times champions New Zealand at the same venue on Friday.
The Junior All Blacks had earlier booked their place in the showpiece match for the fifth consecutive time by defeating Wales 30-6 in the other semi-final. However, Dawie Theron’s side showed last night they will provide formidable opposition, despite it being the hosts’ maiden final appearance.
Inspired by their free-flowing performance when a four-try bonus point was required in the final pool game against England earlier in the week at Cape Town Stadium, the Baby Boks were again full of running and confidence last night. They showed a willingness to attack the advantage line to create space and width for their outside backs almost immediately from the kickoff.
And even when an early chance went a-begging after Sharks Super Rugby star Paul Jordaan failed to hang on to a loose pass with the tryline on offer, it did not deter the home side. They continued to attack, even from deep inside their own half, with fullback Dillyn Leyds and flyhalf Handré Pollard the chief protagonists.
It has not been surprising that South Africa’s performances in this tournament have improved along with the introduction of Pollard, the young Paarl Gym schoolboy, to the Baby Boks starting line-up for the second pool game against Italy. Although he had the benefit of front foot ball, secured manfully by a bustling Baby Bok pack, the 18-year-old pulled the strings in this match like a veteran puppet master.
His exciting backline relished his clear decision-making and good distribution, none more so than substitute wing Raymond Rhule, who replaced Jordaan early in the first half.
The Cheetahs flyer crossed the whitewash twice, once finishing off a superb team try that went through multiple phases. His second was a superb individual effort in the second half.
The first try was especially good, as it was again initiated through a Leyds counter-attack, and it was also scored on the stroke of halftime that pushed South Africa into a 22-0 lead at the break. It snuffed out any realistic chance the South Americans had of staging a comeback after impressive centre Jan Serfontein and hooker Mark Pretorius had already collected a try apiece.
But for all Rhule’s two-try heroics, the Baby Boks again owe their marauding loose-forwards Shaun Adendorff and Pieter-Steph du Toit a great debt of gratitude. The duo are tireless in defence, putting in tackle after tackle, yet fit and strong enough to break the line with some powerful runs.
Although the scoreline could have been bigger had replacement flyhalf Tony Jantjies goaled a couple of penalties after replacing Pollard mid-way through the second half, Theron will know, though, that his team have not yet delivered a complete performance.
There was still some inaccuracy at the lineout, although there was a marked improvement after some previous failings, while Argentina were also able to turn over the ball on the ground at times. Such basic errors will be punished by New Zealand, but the Baby Boks will surely look to rectify these mistakes in the build-up to what will be the biggest game of their young lives.
South Africa: Tries: Jan Serfontein, Mark Pretorius, Raymond Rhule (2). Conversions: Handré Pollard (3). Penalties: Pollard (2), Tony Jantjies.
Argentina: Penalty: Sebastian Poet.