JUNIOR Springbok No 8 Juarno Augustus and flyhalf Curwin Bosch were the big heroes as the South Africans drew 23-23 against France in their opening game of the World Rugby U20 Championship in Tbilisi on Wednesday.
Augustus scored a try in the 83rd minute from a driving maul and Bosch held his nerve to kick the conversion in a match that looked to be heading the way of the French, who dominated the encounter.
As it turned out, Augustus also scored the opening try of the match, in the second minute, while Sharks Super Rugby star Bosch’s accurate kicking kept the Junior Boks in the contest throughout.
It was not the kind of performance South African fans or Junior Boks coach Chean Roux would have expected. The South African side was stacked with players who’d featured at the tournament in Manchester last year, while there were also men in the squad who have turned out for the SA Sevens team, other Super Rugby sides and several who featured in the SA Schools team last year.
It was an error-ridden and lethargic performance by captain Ernst van Rhyn’s men. They never laid any kind of platform up front and the handling and kicking by the backs was poor, to say the least. There was also little intensity in the showing, and at times it looked as if the players didn’t actually know what to do with the ball. Was there a game-plan of any kind?
The French though were excellent in most departments. They were powerful up front, and their backs found plenty of space out wide to exploit and in their flyhalf they had a player who looks like a Test star in the making. Romain Ntamack – who has the same surname as the legendary French Test wing Emile – was outstanding as first receiver and his two drop-kicks midway through the second half almost took his team to victory.
After Augustus’ opening try and Bosch’s first penalty on the seven-minute mark, it looked as if the Junior Boks were well in control of matters and even the television commentators felt a big score could be in the offing. How wrong they were.
French fullback Romain Buros scored a try straight from a restart after charging down a clearance kick and then the Junior Boks fell to pieces. Under a wave of attack they lost Wandisile Simelane and Gerhard Steenkamp to the sin bin before Florian Dufour finished off from a driving maul.
Deservedly up at the break, the French moved further ahead after the restart when scrumhalf Baptiste Couilloud found space down the blindside to score his team’s third try before Bosch closed the gap to four points with a second penalty.
Ntamack then slotted his drop-goals to help France into a 23-13 lead, but the Junior Boks finished with a flourish thanks to Bosch, who struck a 63rd minute penalty, and Augustus’ late, late converted try.
It was a forgettable performance by the Junior Boks, who also still have to face Georgia and Argentina before the knockout rounds.
South Africa - Tries: Augustus (2); Conversions: Bosch (2); Penalties: Bosch (3)
France - Tries: Buros, Dufour, Couilloud; Conversion: Ntamack; Drop-goals: Ntamack (2).