Junior Boks wary of resting stars against Argentina

Junior Springbok lock Bathobele Hlekani barges his way through the Fijian defence at the Cape Town Stadium on Saturday. Photo: BackpagePix

Junior Springbok lock Bathobele Hlekani barges his way through the Fijian defence at the Cape Town Stadium on Saturday. Photo: BackpagePix

Published Jul 1, 2024


Should the Junior Springboks keep their best team intact, or rest a few players for their next World Rugby Under-20 Championship clash?

That is the biggest conundrum facing South Africa’s coach Bafana Nhleko after watching his team dispatch Fiji 57-7 in their tournament opener at the Cape Town Stadium on Saturday night.

The Junior Boks had a few hiccups early on, but their dominance up front eventually told as they scored eight tries to one to set the tone for the rest of the campaign. But there is a short turnaround time before their second match against Argentina, as they face the South Americans on Thursday at the Danie Craven Stadium in Stellenbosch.

That is followed by another five-day period before their biggest game in Pool C, against England at the Athlone Stadium, with the Six Nations Under-20 champions having beaten Argentina 40-21 on Saturday. Only the top team in each of the three pools is guaranteed a semi-final spot, with the best second-placed team advancing as well.

Nhleko was satisfied with the Junior Boks’ display against Fiji, but knows that they can get even better.

“We are just happy with the win,” the coach said in the post-match media conference.

“We didn’t control the first kick-off, which gave Fiji some good energy. But I thought how the boys handled that phase – to defend and not concede – was good ...

“We spoke in the week about wanting to play from (the) set piece, and getting energy from that. I thought it was good today, and as we learnt, when you start getting a bit loose – like we did in the second half – then you start letting Fiji into the game.

“So, the big thing was for us was to be really disciplined around our systems and around our structures.

“Argentina next are also a big set-piece team, and following that, England are a proper set-piece team as well. It’s important that we keep getting it right over and over.

“I watched a bit of Argentina and England today: very physical game, and the one that went away first opened up opportunities. We need to man-up from a physical point of view.

— World Rugby (@WorldRugby) June 29, 2024

“Potentially, there will be changes (against Argentina). The first thing would be to look at what Argentina offer and how we can counter that, and how we want to play against them to give us a chance of a result.

“There are some tough learnings from the past, where you pick your best side throughout and by the time you get to the play-offs, you’ve got no legs left.

“And we are in such a tough group you don’t have the luxury of making too many changes. The important thing is to keep the spine the same, which is what we are going to aim for.”

— World Rugby (@WorldRugby) June 29, 2024

Nhleko added that replacement back Ezekiel Ngobeni, who went off on a stretcher in the second half, “is going to be okay”. He had sustained concussion after receiving a blow to the head and was taken to hospital as a precautionary measure.

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