IOL Sport writer Wynona Louw.
South Africa would benefit from competing in an international Under-20 tournament.

Yes, they have their standard training camps that precede the annual World Rugby U20 Championship, as well as a number of warm-up fixtures. But, as history would suggest, that is not enough.

A 28-man Junior Bok team will travel to Argentina for the U20 Championship, which takes place from 4-22 June.

The Baby Boks will meet Scotland on June 4, Georgia on June 8 and New Zealand on June 12 in the pool stages in Rosario.

This year, the Junior Boks’ preparations for the international showpiece included three friendlies against the U20 teams of Georgia and Argentina, as well as a Namibian XV in the new International Series, while they also took on England and Wales on a two-match tour to the UK.

While Chean Roux’s team’s pre-championship results have given enough cause for concern (they lost to Argentina and a depleted England side, and came from behind to beat Wales 35-31), it’s their past results at the U20 Championship that have suggested that a proper competition ahead of the tournament might not be a bad idea.

The semi-finals have become about as good as you can expect it to get for the Baby Boks, and although they have often (including last year) reaped promising results during the pre-season, they haven’t always been able to mimic it when it mattered (like last year, when they won all four of their warm-up games, including the one against England, only to be schooled by France in the pool stages and swept aside by England in the semis).

England, for example, get game time galore in the U20 Six Nations, while they also work in a warm-up against South Africa. France, Ireland, Italy, Wales and Scotland of course also benefit from the junior Six Nations.

Down in the southern hemisphere, New Zealand and Australia compete in the Oceania Rugby U20 Championships along with Fiji and Japan.

So, is SA doing enough to make sure that the Junior Boks are not only ready for the U20 Championship each year, but also to ensure that they achieve the same kind of success as the SA U18s?

The one-off warm-ups against England, for example, are better than nothing, and so is the new International Series that was played with Argentina, Georgia and Namibia.

But to be able to play in a structured competition like the Six Nations would do a lot of good for SA’s young talent, and it would also go a long way in replicating the nuances that come with playing in an official tournament that comes with its own pressure and rewards.

Currently, the U20 Championship is the only major competition the Junior Boks play in, and it shows.

If things are to get any better for the SA U20s at the World Championship, they will have to get a feel for real competition before they head to wherever the competition is hosted every year. Not only will it help them, but it will also give their coach a series of opportunities to test his combinations, to identify shortcomings and fix it, and get the team to gel and flow ... all of that while still keeping an eye on the competition’s prize. And that will beat working on those things at training camps any day.

A side like England looks way different to the Junior Boks when they meet in the annual showpiece, and there is a good reason for that.


Cape Times

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