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‘For their country’: Junior Springboks captain beams with pride after win

By Finn Morton
South Africa celebrate victory during The Rugby Championship U20 Round 3 match between Argentina and South Africa at Sunshine Coast Stadium on May 12, 2024 in Sunshine Coast, Australia. (Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images)

South Africa U20 captain Zachary Porthen beamed with pride after the Junior Springboks dug deep to record a last-minute 30-28 win over Argentina U20 on Australia’s Sunshine Coast on Sunday afternoon.

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The Junior Springboks had earned a 13-all draw with eventual champions New Zealand in their first match as a group before falling to tournament hosts Australia less than a week later at Sunshine Coast Stadium.

With one more match left in their Rugby Championship U20 campaign, the South Africans had to do it the hard way in an 80-minute battle with Argentina. Los Pumitas were leading with time almost up but it’s the score at the end that counts after all.

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Zachary Porthen immensely proud after South Africa’s win | TRC U20

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Zachary Porthen immensely proud after South Africa’s win | TRC U20

South Africa flyhalf Philip-Albert van Niekerk converted an 80th-minute penalty goal from close range to deliver a thrilling two-point win. The Junior Springboks burst into an almost euphoric state of celebration on the field before thanking the supporters in the stands.

With one win, one draw and one loss from three starts, the Junior Springboks finished second on the four-team table. While New Zealand would go on to hoist the gigantic trophy, this was still a crucial win ahead of the World Rugby U20 Championship on home soil.

“I’m feeling phenomenal, on top of the world. I had goosebumps throughout most of the game and after because you chase that result of the game,” Porthen told RugbyPass.

“That feeling that you get when that final whistle blows and you win the game… it’s out of this world.

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“Without that crowd I don’t think the result would’ve gone the same way. They really cheered us on and got us going with eh momentum.

“We needed that, I promise you we needed that.

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“It’s been a rough road leading up to this point but you want to end on a high note and that’s so important,” he added.

“The way you finish is just so crucial.

“We can take a lot of learnings, obviously we’ll focus on different things and we’ll learn a lot going forward and we’ll chase the junior World Cup, the Championship.”

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Throughout last year’s Rugby World Cup in France, the narrative or idea that South Africa were playing for more than just themselves became a regular storyline. On the way to a second consecutive title, it was spoken about a fair bit.

The Blitzboks have expressed a similar love and respect for the jersey during their turbulent 2023/24 SVNS Series campaign, and the same mentality has also been shared in the Junior Springboks’ set-up.

Last week, team vice-captain JF van Heerden choked up and held back the tears after being asked what it means to represent South Africa on the rugby field. That’s why the players were so joyous after van Niekerk’s penalty goal.

It was about more than just themselves.

“I’ll be cheering the boys, telling the guys, ‘Listen guys, this is why we play rugby, for these moments. We’re representing our country, it’s a lot bigger than us’ and that’s when guys just get their heads stuck in after hearing that and they did it.

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“They did it for their country. They can be so proud of themselves, every single one of those boys out there. I’m so proud of them.

“I looked at the time, I looked at my boys and I said, ‘Guys, well done.’

“I went to the ref and I said, ‘I think it’s a given that we’re going for poles’ because obviously we wanted that result, anyone would. Then I just got goosebumps immediately.”

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