It wasn’t easy, but the Junior Boks managed to remain unbeaten after overcoming Ireland 30-17 in their second match of the World Rugby Under-20 Championships on Sunday.
It was always going to be tough against an Ireland side determined to secure a victory after suffering a heartbreaking 24-26 defeat against France on Wednesday.
They were always going to be hungry, and that hunger – along with way too many errors and a subsequent yellow card for the Junior Boks – again made the first half a tough one for the South Africans in France, although they led 12-10 at the break.
The Irish did most of the running in the first half, and while the Baby Boks managed to convert their time spent with the ball into points through two first-half tries, they were also guilty of an unacceptable number of infringements in the opposition 22.
That saw the referee say enough and send PJ Steenkamp to the sin-bin after repeated team infringements.
Chean Roux’s team didn’t impress a lot at scrum time in the first half either, and their only laudable first-half scrummaging effort came early in the opening 40.
While it did look better in the second half, it was a similar case in their opening game against Georgia last week, not only in terms of the scrums, but their first-half productions in general, especially the errors.
But the Junior Boks managed to pull away in the last quarter to secure the win.
Ireland wasted no time after the break, and Caelin Doris did well in the build-up to the try with top line-break, before No 8 Michael Silvester went over for the converted try that gave them the lead for the first time in the match (12-17).
The Junior Boks were dealt a massive blow when flyhalf Damian Willemse was carried off the field on a stretcher early in the second half with what looked like a knee injury.
They managed to strike again after some brilliant vision sent the ball in behind Ireland’s defence, before Wandisile Simelane chased it down to score and level the score (17-17).
Fullback Gianni Lombard, who took over the kicking duties in Willemse’s absence, missed the conversion.
Simelane was rewarded for his contributions to the Junior Boks’ game when he got his second try of the match. Scrumhalf Zak Burger, who opened the scoring, sent a box kick into space before the agile outside centre dotted down again after gathering the ball on the try line (22-17).
Lombard slotted his first kick in four attempts when he added a penalty kick to stretch their lead (25-17), and also made sure that Ireland needed more than just a converted try to take the lead with 10 minutes to go.
The left-hand corner seemed to draw Simelane like a magnet, and the way in which he dived over for his hat trick was testament to that.
A powerful driving maul and quick decision to play the blindside set Simelane up to pace down touch to make their lead a commanding one (30-17).
The Junior Boks currently top Pool C and will face hosts France in their last group stage game on Thursday, June 7.
Junior Boks 30 – Tries: Zak Burger, Muller du Plessis, Wandisile Simelane (3). Conversion: Damian Willemse (1). Penalty: Gianni Lombard (1).
Ireland 17 – Tries: Caelin Doris, Michael Silvester. Conversions: Conor Dean (2) Penalty: Dean (1).