New Zealand (15) 25
Tries: Faiva; Li; Tavae-Aso; Conversions: McKenzie (2); Penalties: McKenzie (2)
South Africa (10) 32
Tries: Pollard, Petersen, Esterhuizen, Els; Conversions: Pollard (3); Penalties: Pollard (2)
There were heroes aplenty in the South African Under-20 team that beat New Zealand in the Junior World Championship semi-final in North Harbour on Sunday, but star flyhalf and captain Handré Pollard was again the star performer.
The Bulls player, who looks set to link up with the senior Boks for the Rugby Championship from August, again produced a stellar performance, contributing 17 points as the Baby Boks ran in four tries to down their greatest rivals for the second time in nine days in the competition.
The Boks now advance to Friday’s final where they will meet England, who beat Ireland earlier on Sunday.
Baby Boks coach Dawie Theron was full of praise for his players, and especially Pollard, after the team battled to get going in a poor first half, but hit back in style in the second 40 minutes.
“It was like a proper Test match out there. It was full of tension, drama and excitement and I’m immensely proud of the boys. We kept our composure and I knew we were always in the game despite going behind at half-time and twice again in the second half,” explained Theron.
“Credit must go to the players. They showed huge fighting spirit and great composure to close out the game like that.
“Their composure can be attributed to what we do in training. During our sessions we keep the intensity high and always put them under pressure, because that is what you have to do to win games such as these.”
Theron praised Pollard for his ability to deal with the high levels of intensity.
“Handré Pollard was outstanding with his leadership and he led by example with his play. His intercept try in the first half was no fluke – that was the result of pressure,” added Theron.
Pollard’s 50-metre dash to the line after intercepting the ball 15 minutes into the game put the Boks 7-5 ahead after his successful conversion, but the Boks would only lead again late in the game.
New Zealand’s youngsters dominated the contest for the first 40 minutes and they deservedly led 15-10 at the break.
Only outstanding last-gasp defence by Pollard’s men prevented the New Zealanders from scoring more than two first half tries, with Warrick Gellant and Aidon Davis pulling off last-man tackles to stop the New Zealanders crossing the line.
South Africa also had to do without powerful centre André Esterhuizen for 10 minutes in the first half after he was sin-binned for a high tackle – which really wasn’t a high tackle at all.
The Baby Blacks went 18-10 ahead soon after half-time, but a converted try by wing Sergeal Petersen, against the run of play, and a Pollard penalty put the Boks in front, but with 13 minutes to go New Zealand regained the lead through wing Vincent Tavae-Aso.
South Africa, though, wrapped up the tie in the final 10 minutes after Esterhuizen powered his way over the line and then, with virtually the last move of the match, hooker Corniel Els dotted down after a strong driving maul.
It was an error-ridden display by the Baby Boks and they missed plenty of tackles, but they got the job done and are now one win away from winning the biggest prize in under-20 rugby.