Baby Boks need win after going from bad to worse
It is six years since the Junior Springboks won their only World Rugby Under-20 Champions title and over the past few seasons the graph is getting worse‚ not better.
On Tuesday the Junior Boks lost 32-31 to England in the semifinals of the 2018 edition of the tournament‚ being played in France. It was a narrow defeat but in the cold light of day suffering a fifth straight loss to England highlighted a trend rather than a one-off setback.
It was also SA’s second defeat of the tournament after they were resounding 46-29 losers to hosts France in their final pool match last week.
Any team can have an off year but despite some amazing talent and some of the best schoolboy rugby in the world‚ SA seems to be hitting a ceiling at the semifinal stage of this tournament. It might be an acceptable return for some countries‚ but for SA the Under-20s should win this tournament more often.
Back when there was an Under-21 World Championship the Junior Boks won it three times between 1999 and 2007. Since it became an Under-20 tournament in 2008, they have won one title in 11 attempts.
New Zealand have won it six times and England three times. France and England meet in the 2018 final in Beziers on Sunday.
New Zealand went undefeated for four seasons at the tournament between 2008 and 2011 and suffered their first loss in the 2012 final against SA.
In 2016‚ despite making the semifinals‚ the Junior Boks only won six of their 10 games. In 2018 SA have already lost two of four games and they could lose a third in the bronze medal match against New Zealand.
If that happens it would be SA’s first negative winning ratio at the World Championships. The trend has been downwards in the past three seasons‚ which has mirrored the senior Springboks’ own woes.
Coach Chean Roux has not managed to deliver the title despite‚ by his own admission‚ the best possible preparation.
Against England in Narbonne on Tuesday‚ SA trailed 19-0 after 23 minutes and never quite had enough to come back.
A lot is now riding on the bronze medal match‚ to stop this being the worst return for SA at an U20 World Championships.
"It is the second time in two years that we came close against England in the semifinal‚ but the team showed tremendous character in the second half‚" said Roux.
"We have exciting backs and we tried to get the ball wide but we spilled the ball or made mistakes in the wet weather.
"We then decided to keep things close with the forwards‚ and they did brilliantly‚ and we outscored them five tries to four in the end.
"The players will learn from it‚ and it will help them in their careers going forward."
Looking ahead at the third-place playoff against New Zealand‚ who lost their semifinal against hosts France‚ Roux said they were determined to win the bronze medal‚ although he admitted that the players had to be mentally strong in the lead-up to the game.
"We have to beat New Zealand‚" said Roux. "We will do our preparations for the game as we have for all the others‚ but it is very important for us to win that match. A medal is a medal‚ so we will be ready for them."