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Bafana Nhleko: 'South Africa fans have every right to be upset'

South Africa's Asad Moos and Liam Koen during the loss to England (Photo by Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images via Getty Images)

Bafana Nhleko has issued a conciliatory message to Junior Boks fans, admitting they have every right to be upset after South Africa failed to advance to the semi-finals of the World Rugby U20 Championship for the first time since 2011. His team not only needed to beat England in the puddles of Athlone but they also had to win by a margin wide enough so that the match points divvy would be five to the hosts and zero to the visitors.


That would have pulled them level with the English on 10 points and with Argentina also on the same number following their 52-12 dismissal of Fiji, top spot in the pool would have been awarded to the team with the best points difference in the three-way tie.

In the end, these mathematics weren’t needed as the Junior Boks lost 12-17 to an 86th-minute England try, which left them finishing third in the pool and eighth overall in the ranking heading into match day four where they must now play Argentina against in a fifth to eighth place semi-final.

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Springbok head coach Rassie Erasmus on the criticism levelled at his Bomb Squad

SPOTLIGHT: The Springboks were once again asked to respond to criticism levelled at the use of their bench.

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Springbok head coach Rassie Erasmus on the criticism levelled at his Bomb Squad

SPOTLIGHT: The Springboks were once again asked to respond to criticism levelled at the use of their bench.

“They have got a right to be upset,” suggested Nhleko when asked by RugbyPass if he had a message for South African fans annoyed that their team hasn’t got the desired results, losing to England after a 12-31 hammering by the Argentinians last Thursday in Stellenbosch.

“The Springbok jersey is a proud jersey and we have been in the semi-final for the last 10 years, something like that. Very disappointing and none more so disappointed than us as a group in not being able to perform on our home soil. As I keep saying, the boys aren’t going to stop trying. We are hoping that we can finish the tournament in a good light together. Something small to smile about, a consolation.”


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When he spoke he had just come back down the dressing room tunnel after fronting a media briefing where the South African media probed him for answers regarding their failure. “Good questions I guess about the programme and where we are, and I keep stressing the fact there are lots of good players in this group and I am hoping these two games don’t define them as people going forward,” he insisted.

“The biggest thing for us is to make sure we finish the tournament on a good note. These boys are really good players. It just hasn’t gone our way., Partly our own fault and partly just, you know, that is how sport goes sometimes. But the important thing is we have two more games, we’ll stick to the process and make sure we get back on our game and hopefully finish as high as we can.


“We believe in that, it [developing players] has always been the mantra. We want to win. It would be nice to be playing in a semi-final and a final but we also understand that there is a bigger picture to this. The bigger picture is making sure that some of these boys that are sitting here now in a year or two’s time are part of senior groups and hopefully some of the hurt they feel now will fuel them to go on to do greater things.”

Losing the way they did to England in a final play that took six minutes to complete due to repeated infringements near their own try line hurt. “Cruel but that’s sport and that is what makes it entertaining, the fact that a team can score right at the end to win the game,” continued the South African coach.

“That being said, very tough game. Conditions were quite tough but both sides came out to play. It was quite impressive that. I thought our boys’ effort in bouncing back after the Argentina game was really selfless. Sad about the result but super proud of the boys’ effort.

“We were in a dark place after Argentina just because it wasn’t so much the scoreboard, the performance wasn’t really good and then today we showed a good fight.”


What about the opportunity of getting back at Argentina and showing there genuinely isn’t as wide a gulf as suggested by the 19-point margin of defeat on match day two?

“We won’t have to do much analysis, we know what is coming. The same applies for them. We will have to get up for it. The bodies are sore. We will give the boys a day or two off and then get back into how we are going to play against them.”

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CraigD 7 days ago

Rugby is a sport about cohesion playing together getting to know each other’s game and communicate moves.
The reason why we guys are upset as we know schools like Grey college and Paul Roos would beat that u20 side

John 7 days ago

Amazing how ppl jump to the quota system to blame? which outstanding white players would’ve led the baby boks to victory?

What I saw was bad lineouts (particularly vs ARG), sloppy ball protection in carries and slow reaction times on defense - on balance it was more white than black in the clips

Playing in the wet is a different beast but it’s something you can try train in/train for

Craig 8 days ago

Get rid of the quota system, when junior Rugby sides are chosen on merit alone then we we will see a bump in standards. I was horrified at the standard of quota players at the Grant Khomo level this year, it was frightening. I'm not talking about the coloured kids coming through the system I'm specifically referring to the black kids… they are not up to the same standard. Either this was a failure at time of selection or something went wrong with the rugby academy programmes. The Quota system is NOT working.

CraigD 8 days ago

Guys don’t worry as SA have really been unlucky with crazy weather again.
Coaching is tough in wet.
We like playing on hard grounds and fast pace.

Pieter 8 days ago

This is what happens when you have quotas and don’t choose the best players.

SteveD 9 days ago

Like in the RWC, SA teams just don't get enough experience playing in the wet, unlike the European teams - and NZ too - who do. But that's rugby.

Jacque 9 days ago

With a Flyhalf like Koen- what did you expect??

Turlough 9 days ago

The performance against Argentina was the problem. England are the best side in the tournament and definitely the most mature on the tournament regarding adapting to particular matches. SA started well at 7-0 up were attacking. England are just very very good and relentless. The fact that England got the result will be huge for them. Intriguing SF match against Ireland coming up. NZ may not be too happy seeing France again so soon.

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finn 5 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

What a difference 9 months makes! Last autumn everyone was talking about how important versatile bench players were to SA’s WC win, now we’re back to only wanting specialists? The timing of this turn is pretty odd when you consider that some of the best players on the pitch in the SA/Ireland match were Osbourne (a centre playing out of position at 15), Feinberg-Mngomezulu (a fly-half/centre playing out of position at 15), and Frawley (a utility back). Having specialists across the backline is great, but its not always necessary. Personally I think Frawley is unlikely to displace Crowley as first choice 10, but his ability to play 12 and 15 means he’s pretty much guaranteed to hold down a spot on the bench, and should get a decent amount of minutes either at the end of games or starting when there are injuries. I think Willemse is in a similar boat. Feinberg-Mngomezulu possibly could become a regular starter at 10 for the Springboks, but he might not, given he’d have to displace Libbok and Pollard. I think its best not to put all your eggs in one basket - Osbourne played so well at the weekend that he will hopefully be trusted with the 15 shirt for the autumn at least, but if things hadn’t gone well for him he could have bided his time until an opportunity opened up at centre. Similarly Feinberg-Mngomezulu is likely to get a few opportunities at 15 in the coming months due to le Roux’s age and Willemse’s injury, but given SA don’t have a single centre aged under 30 its likely that opportunities could also open up at 12 if he keeps playing there for Stormers. None of this will discount him from being given gametime at 10 - in the last RWC cycle Rassie gave a start at 10 to Frans Steyn, and even gave de Klerk minutes there off the bench - but it will give him far more opportunities for first team rugby.

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