CAPE TOWN - It’s been slow starts and late surges for the Junior Springboks so far, but a strong start, paired with sustained effort, will be key against New Zealand at the Racecourse Stadium in Argentina tonight.
The Junior Boks meet the Kiwis in their final pool game (8.30pm) of the World Rugby Under-20 Championship after beating Scotland and Georgia convincingly.
Earlier this week, captain Phendulani Buthelezi said they were excited about the challenge and that they’re ready to make the mental switch as the competition reaches crunch time.
The match will decide which team will automatically qualify for the semi-finals, and whether the losing team will progress to the top four on log points.
The top team in each pool and the next best-placed team in the competition will battle it out for places in the final of the international showpiece on Saturday, June ss.
Buthelezi is confident that they can build on what they produced in their first two matches.
“We played two very important games in the last week, and I think we have grown a lot as a squad,” said Buthelezi. “There are areas we wanted to improve on and we have certainly gone out there and done that, but there are also things we have to fix going forward. So it has been a huge learning curve for us.
“All the teams have eased their way into the World Rugby U20 Championship, and we now know what to expect from the others, so we are ready to go out there and build on what we have done up to now.”
In their opening game, both the Junior Boks and the Scots played their part in an error-strewn first half, but the South Africans managed to pull away in the 65th minute to secure a 43-19 win in Rosario. Their scrum did well but their line-out struggled.
And while they were again their own worst enemies at times against Georgia, the Junior Boks got it together to score eight tries to three.
The loose forward relished the challenge of facing New Zealand and said: “It is exciting times ahead for us. It is in moments like these that we need to step up as players and try to create great memories. We are ready to do that.
“It is now up to us to make that mental switch, and go out there on Wednesday and do our best. We obviously need to ensure we prepare well, but the main thing for us is to focus on what we need to bring the game.”
Buthelezi was well aware of the importance of starting the clash strongly, which he admitted was one of the biggest lessons they took from their matches against Georgia and Scotland.
“We need to get our matches off to a better start; that’s a big work-on for us,” he said. “We have established that we create opportunities in the first half but don’t finish off, and that places us under pressure.
“Going forward that is something we really need to step up. We want to reach the point where we walk away with points if we get close to the opposition’s tryline.”@WynonaLouw