Rising to the challenge: Baby Boks vice-captain Muzi Manyike beats an England player in Saturday’s match in Cape Town. Manyike was one of many outstanding South African players during the four-nation tournament. Picture: GALLO IMAGES/BERTRAM MALGAS
Rising to the challenge: Baby Boks vice-captain Muzi Manyike beats an England player in Saturday’s match in Cape Town. Manyike was one of many outstanding South African players during the four-nation tournament. Picture: GALLO IMAGES/BERTRAM MALGAS

Coach Sean Erasmus declared himself happy with the way his South African Schools team performed during the Under-18 International Series that ended here on Saturday.

"We played three matches in eight days and won two of them, so it was not a bad set of results when you factor in the limited time we had to prepare.

"We were up against Wales, France and England, all of whom arrived in the Mother City having spent a lot more time together playing in big tournaments such as the European U19 Six Nations.

"As for us, I had a few days with the boys before our opener against Wales, so it was not ideal, but we got the job done against them thanks to a late try.

"Next up four days later was a clash with France, who had beaten England in their opener and for the first 40 minutes of 70 they had us down and out at 21-0," Erasmus said.

"Our motto for the tournament was ‘character and resistance’, and the boys showed that in a tremendous fightback that got us to within seven points at the end in a 28-21 loss.

"I felt we were starting to deliver on the talent we had in abundance and that it would show itself against England at Sacs [High School] on Saturday.

"They had lost both their matches but they would have been eyeing a repeat of 2017 when they gave us a big smack in the final game of the series.

"For me [who was not the coach in 2017], that result counted for nothing. This was a new test and I just wanted the players to go out and express themselves and enjoy the moment, which they did and we ended up turning on the magic in the final half hour to win going away [41-21].

SA had to dig deep to get on top after England had dictated play in the opening half to go up 17-12. The hosts were slow away and made numerous handling errors while losing possession in contact.

But the Baby Boks found their mojo in the second period and, after trailing 19-22, got to grips with their opposite numbers and scored 19 unanswered points in the final 15 minutes via three tries and two conversions.

"It was a team effort," said Erasmus, who signs off on a magnificent 23-year career at school level for a role with the Golden Lions. He guided Paarl Boys’ High to top-dog status in the country for three consecutive seasons from 2015 to 2017 that included a 50-game unbeaten run.

"Both forwards and backs stepped up to the plate when it mattered most. Overall for the series, we made key mistakes at times, especially against the powerful French side, but the boys can feel proud the way they went about representing their country," he said.

As for SA’s players standing out, there were too many to mention. Among the backs, Brendon Venter at centre (son of the former Bok with the same name) stood out against England with numerous breaks through the defences and proved to be a good decisionmaker and organiser of sorties.

His midfield partner Muzi Manyike (vice-captain) was equally effective with his speed and defending. Sibabalwe Xamlashe on the leftwing also impressed. Team captain Adrian Alberts at lock led with his barging runs. He and No8 Evan Roos were always in the thick of the action, while the front row of Thabiso Mdletshe, Jean-Jacques Kotze and Hanro Jacobs were highly rated by Eramus.