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Joe Bailey: From 'horrible' to 'everyone singing, dancing, hugging'

By Liam Heagney
England's Joe Bailey battles South Africa's JF van Heerden at the lineout on Tuesday (Photo by Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images via Getty Images)

Joe Bailey wasn’t shy in revealing how anguished he was watching England in the closing moments of the muddy epic against the Junior Boks on Tuesday night. The World Rugby U20 Championship Pool C fixture on the Cape Flats had been deadlocked since the 51st minute and the Exeter lock had been looking on from the moment three minutes later when his number was called and Olamide Sodeke was sent into the gruelling contest.


A 12-all draw at the weather-beaten stadium in Athlone would still have left the English topping their pool and advancing to next Sunday’s Cape Town Stadium semi-final versus Ireland. Yet, the rejuvenating effect that winning 17-12 so late on could have on tired bodies shouldn’t be underestimated.

England had 87 per cent of the possession in the closing 10 minutes and with the referee Federico Vedovelli tired of repeated South African infringements near the try line and brandishing a yellow card to Divan Fuller, the home defence was finally breached in the 86th minute with James Isaacs getting over off the back of maul.

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Jaco Peyper on TMO in Boks win over Ireland

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Jaco Peyper on TMO in Boks win over Ireland

Unbridled celebrations ignited, releasing all the tension that had built. “God, it was horrible,” quipped Bailey to RugbyPass when asked what it was like monitoring the end-game battle for inches from the touchline. “I hate watching from the bench because you can’t control anything, you have just got to watch and sit tight. I had full faith in the boys, I trusted them, we trust each other to get the job done and we did.

“We kept getting advantages so we were free to play a lot of the time and when we stick it in the corner, we back our maul and we scored, so very happy. We’re ecstatic. We worked really, really hard for our win as you can tell and came through right at the end. We fought until the very end and that is what we pride ourselves on.


Turnovers Won
Turnovers Lost

“It’s brilliant. Everyone is singing, everyone is dancing, everyone is hugging each other. We are embracing each other. That is what is so special about this team, we are so tight as a group. We are going to enjoy this and we’re onto the next game.”

Bailey was immense while he was out there in the thick of the slog. There were 14 tackles, only three less than the chart-topping Nathan Michelow, who played the entire match. There were also seven carries, including the 44th-minute foray that ended with him dotting down over the line to give England a fleeting 12-7 lead.


“It was a maul five metres out and I was just the lucky guy who got the ball,” he explained, downplaying his name being on the match day three scoresheet. “It was a pack effort at the end of the day when it comes from a maul try and I was at the end of it. Yeah, very happy.

“They [South Africa] came out flying. They were very physical at the start and very physical throughout the game but we stuck in it. We were against the wind in the first half so we knew we had to stay in it and then we could try to blow them away in the second half and yeah, we pulled through.”

This ‘pulled through’ success against the Junior Boks now has them pitted against Ireland, the Six Nations rivals with whom they shared an incredible 32-all draw with at The Rec in Bath 18 weeks ago.

England went on to clinch that title a week later with a win in France, but how they stack up preparation-wise heading into the semi-finals will be important given the workload imbalance caused by the Irish having Tuesday off as their Pool B-deciding fixture against Australia in Athlone was cancelled.


“We know what to expect with Ireland,” figured Bailey. “We know they are a very good team so we are going to have to recover really well, especially as they missed their game today so they are going to basically have a 10-day turnaround. We are going to have to work really hard on our recovery and work on our reviews and bounce back.”

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Wonton 3 hours ago
Why Scott Robertson may need to ease big names aside for All Blacks' flexibility

One game against Fiji is not enough to show that a player is ready to play the likes of South Africa. Spreading the ball wide too much increases the risk of turnovers and we turned the ball over 20 times against Fiji which is a lot more than what we did in the two England tests. We actually turned the ball over the same amount of times (20) against England in the 2019 semi final which we lost. Fiji didn’t make us pay for those turnovers but other teams will. In the 2nd test against England this year we had 100% success rate on attacking rucks. That’s the first time the AB’s have achieved this since the 2019 opening game of the RWC against South Africa. South Africa won last years RWC and Jesse Kriel did not pass once. The days of the Conrad Smith type centre might be over. Also Conrad Smith debuted in 2004 but he did not become an incumbent until Nonu did also in 2008. As for Rieko Ioane he and Jordie Barrett put in some very strong midfield hits in the 2nd test forcing turnovers several times. Rieko Ioane hasn’t played wing in years. If Proctor is moved to 13 then the best I think Ioane can hope for is an impact player off the bench. He does not have the aerial game of Caleb Clarke or the workrate of Tele’a for 11 and going to be selected over Jordan at 14. However its much too early to replace Rieko with Proctor. Rieko was excellent in the knock out rounds of the RWC. All Proctor has to show on his test CV is a good game against Fiji.

19 Go to comments
Nick 5 hours ago
How 'gazelle' Nick Frost thawed the hearts of Wallaby fans at Suncorp

Its almost like you read my comment on the other site on sunday morning Nick - you flagged all the same examples! 😝 Frost was motm for mine. That eg in the 56th minute in particular impressed me, nothing but sheer effort and a dupont/smith-like tracking line behind the D. Surely an effort like that from frost marries perfectly with that quote from schmidt at the start of the year about effort and work rate being 70-80% and talent is just the icing on top… What it also showed though was the players not making that effort, in that example he goes past both valetini and ikitau, and in the eg that finished with valetini scoring hunter paisami barely breaks a canter to support the break. And then there was the chase from wright and lancaster for the 2nd georgian try! One blemish - at kickoff I saw frost miss or get bumped off a few tackles and I felt like I saw what has been holding his selection back. I think because he is so big and is trying to get low to tackle, he seems to dip his head and ends up losing his balance or ability to adjust and ends up missing or making a soft hit. I think in the first 2 minutes he misses or makes 2-3 soft tackles, but you could clearly see the work rate and desire! He (the pod) also missed a kick restart or two? Also very happy to see harry wilson back in the fold. What impressed me from him wasn’t all the usual stuff he is known for, but all the other bits that usually let him down. He looked surprisingly good in the air at lineout time, physical at the breakdown, and good in the maul peeling off 3 georgians for one of the maul tries. Id have frost, skelton, wright as my 4-6 with LSL and wilson on the bench. i’m once again unconvinced by tom wirght - he was very good game 1, but game 2-3 he was back to more rocks than diamonds. There is no real other player to usurp him really so he stays in the team for now but I think Joe should put kellaway wherever he serves the team best and wright can be moved around him. Did donno do enough to overtake noah? My gut says no. They clearly had a plan to attack more so he looked better in that regard because he just had more opportunity, but they looked better off tate (who had a v good game also) then they did off donno.

15 Go to comments
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