The Junior Boks secured their seventh bronze medal after beating New Zealand 40-30 in the World Rugby Under-20 Championship third-place playoff on Sunday night.
New Zealand called the shots in the opening half as they controlled territory and possession and did well to put the South Africans under pressure, but a superb second half by the Junior Boks secured a podium finish after their disappointing 32-31 semi-final defeat to England.
The Junior Boks took control in the second half and scored 26 points to five after the break, while New Zealand hardly touched the ball after they led 25-14 at halftime.
Chean Roux’s team opened the scoring when winger Tyrone Green intercepted a sloppy long pass by New Zealand and showed his pace as he sprinted to the try line. Fullback Gianni Lombard added the conversion to take an early 7-0 lead.
The New Zealanders hit back almost immediately when Jay Renton dived over, and inside centre Harry Plummer added the extras to level the scores after five minutes.
Plummer put the Junior Blacks in the lead with a penalty kick a few minutes later, and after one of scrumhalf Rewan Kruger’s kicks was charged down, Plummer made sure that he contributed points in the form of an unconverted try as well.
The South Africans turned it into a one-point game when prop Sazi Sandi stretched out to place the ball after a powerful lineout drive by the Junior Boks. Lombard hit his target again.
New Zealand stretched their lead to 18-14 when Plummer slotted a long-range penalty kick, and the Junior Blacks exploited some poor defence by the Junior Boks when lock Waimana Riedlinger-Kapa made an impressive break before using his big strides to get over the tryline at the half-hour mark.
Of SAU20s win coach Chean Roux said: “We played well, but just when we thought we started well, we made one or two bad decisions, which cost us 2 tries. It was a great comeback, & I'm happy for the players because they worked very hard for this. All credit to them." @Springboks pic.twitter.com/zAnq1zvspw
The Junior Boks made their possession and territory count early in the second half when Green got his second try in the right-hand corner after composed play by the forwards helped them into the attack zone. Lombard aced another tough attempt at posts to take them to within four points of New Zealand at 25-21.
New Zealand were down to 14 players in the 53rd minute when right wing Baylin Sullivan was yellow carded for a deliberate knock-down.
And just when it seemed like their numerical advantage would go to waste, the Junior Boks used their strength up front again when hard-working lock Ruan Nortje scored the try to get a 26-25 lead.
And with mere seconds to go before Sullivan was supposed to return to the field, the tournament’s top try-scorer Wandisile Simelane sliced up the midfield to score their sixth try. Lombard, who did well to set Simelane up, added the conversion to stretch their lead (33-25) in the 64th minute.
Plummer had a chance to narrow the margin to five points with a penalty kick in the 72nd minute, but he sent it wide.
The Junior Boks’ direct play got them into New Zealand’s red zone again in the 75th minute. And after some superb running and perfectly-timed passing, replacement prop Asenathi Ntlabakanye finished things off and scored the try that took the score to 40-25.
Left wing Caylib Clarke had the last say just before the siren went when he picked up a kick-pass and ran in to score New Zealand’s only points in the second half.
Junior Boks 40 – Tries: Tyrone Green (2), Sazi Sandi, Ruan Nortje, Wandisile Simelane, Asenathi Ntlabakanye. Conversions: Gianni Lombard (4), Lubabalo Dobela (1).
Junior Blacks 30 – Tries: Jay Renton, Harry Plummer, Waimana Riedlinger-Kapa, Caleb Clarke. Conversions: Plummer (2). Penalties: Plummer (2).