Baby Boks searching for underdog glory
Having risen from the ashes, the South African under-20 side will start as underdogs against their greatest enemy, defending champions New Zealand, when they attempt to win Friday night's IRB Junior World Championship for the first time.
The four-time winners, the Baby Blacks will come into the final after avenging their only defeat of the tournament against Wales -- blitzing them in the semifinal to see themselves into the dream final at Newlands in front of a record-breaking 30 000 plus crowd.
It is a big ask for the home side, the Baby Boks, as they got themselves off the floor after losing their opener to Ireland, and then regrouped to surge back with victories over England and Argentina to reach the final, both of them in blistering fashion.
Built on the back of their rampaging pack, who found their feet when they left Stellenbosch, Dawie Theron’s side exploited space and the synergy between flyhalf Handre Pollard and midfieler Jan Serfontein put them over the advantage line when needed, and will hopefully do so again tonight.
It is likely to be a close final, with both teams possessing gamebreakers who can turn a soft moment into points, but the Baby Boks, by virtue of their previous lack of success in this tournament, will definitely go in as underdogs, even though they have home ground advantage.
Both sides have only conceded two tries in the tournament, and this is a stat Baby Bok coach Dawie Theron will want to remember, as both the tries against his team were from charge downs in the first game.
Theron says though that the team is in a good place at the moment, and will head into the final in full confidence.
“We’re in a good space, and we feel like the work has been done. We can’t wait for the final -- this is what we’ve worked for, this is the dream for us,” Theron told the IRB website.
The coach was adamant that his team took the loss to Ireland in their first game and made it work for them, ensuring they bounced back stronger and better than they were before.
TWO KEY AREAS
“We always knew the first game would be our most difficult game, especially at home. The first one was a bit overwhelming as we hadn’t played under such pressure in a competition before. We had only conceded two tries in the tournament -- they were both against Ireland and both from charge-downs. That was a bitter pill for us to swallow but we learnt from that and grew in belief. We got the blend right between our kicking and running game and the blend of the pack of forwards who can get us over the advantage line.
“The team is growing in belief and hopefully we can peak in our final game. Our semifinal against Argentina I believe was our best game so far as the guys controlled the game.”
Theron added that the defeat had brought them together as a team as they look to what he calls “a dream final”.
“They’re a very proud rugby nation -- the same as us -- and it will be a dream final against New Zealand. We respect them for the fact they are the trophy holders, and we really don’t want it any other way,” Theron explained.
New Zealand coach Rob Penney echoed his sentiments, saying the team that takes its opportunities will win the match.
“Principally there are two key areas (where it will be won and lost),” Penney told the IRB website before the final. “Obviously the Africans are a big side, a dynamic side. They have got a lot of physicality and a lot of presence.
“Our ability to deal with that is a critical one and our ability to generate some possession and use it intelligently. It is going to be a very tight game. I suspect that our ability to capitalise on any little opportunity that might fall our way is going to be equally as critical to our robust defence to try and nullify their physicality and tough play.”
Theron added: “I have always said that there is an amount of luck in the game, but when it gets to the final you’ve got to take your opportunities.
“You’ve got to limit mistakes, you’ve got to be very, very aggressive in your defence and you’ve got to be focused for 80 minutes. The main thing is that you’ve got to take your opportunities and I believe discipline will be a key factor.”
New Zealand have never lost a final in their four appearances, and Theron will be hoping the combination of luck, hard work and home ground advantage will change all of that tonight.
South Africa: Dillyn Leyds (Western Province), Raymond Rhule (Free State), Kobus van Wyk (Western Province), Jan Serfontein (Blue Bulls), Tshotsho Mbovane (Western Province), Handrè Pollard (Western Province), Vian van der Watt (Golden Lions), Fabian Booysen (Golden Lions), Pieter Steph du Toit (KZN), Wiaan Liebenberg (Blue Bulls, capt), Ruan Botha (Golden Lions), Paul Willemse (Golden Lions), Maks van Dyk (KZN), Mark Pretorius (Golden Lions), Steven Kitshoff (Western Province)
Replacements: Franco Marais (KZN), Allan Dell (KZN), Oliver Kebble (Western Province), Braam Steyn (KZN), Shaun Adendorff (Blue Bulls), Abrie Griesel (Blue Bulls),Tony Jantjies (Blue Bulls), Travis Ismaiel (Blue Bulls)
New Zealand: Martin McKenzie, Pita Ahki, Jason Emery, Opetera Peleseuma, Milford Keresoma, Ihaia West, Bryn Hall (capt), Jordan Taufua, Hugh Blake, Jimmy Tupou, Nick Ross, Joe Latta, Fraser Armstrong, Nathan Harris, Ofa Tu’ungafasi.
Replacements: Rhys Marshall, Tuki Raimona, Eric Sione, Taniela Manu, Jake Heenan, Scott Eade, Ambrose Curtis, Marnus Hanley
Referee: Greg Garner (England)
Kick-off: Live on SuperSport at 18:45pm (CAT, SA, GMT +2)