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Junior Boks boss Bafana Nhleko: ‘Two things stand out for me’

By Liam Heagney
Junior Boks' Jurenzo Julius celebrates scoring on Saturday night versus Fiji (Photo by Shaun Roy/World Rugby)

Bafana Nhleko came across this past week as a coach way more sure of his situation than was the case a year ago. The Junior Boks spluttered their way into the semi-finals at the 2023 World Rugby U20 Championship, inconsistencies that Ireland exploited to upset the hosts and progress to the final.

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A lack of match prep left South Africa with a soft underbelly exacerbated by the weight of being a home-soil title favourite. They just didn’t look right and neither did the coach whose explanations for a campaign that included a shock pool loss to Italy didn’t appease his critics.

A year on, the Junior Boks appear to be much better aligned. There has been input from the Test coaches, head honcho Rassie Erasmus conducting an U20s Rugby Championship debrief and assistant Mzwandile Stick running an eye over training, and they have now started their latest World Cup with an eight-try swagger versus Fiji compared to their stuck in second gear struggle with Georgia 12 months ago.

Video Spacer

Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus explains the process of becoming a Bok

Video Spacer

Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus explains the process of becoming a Bok

It doesn’t mean that everything is now rosy and that the Junior Boks are looking good for a first age-grade title since 2012; it has to be factored in that the preparations of the Fijians were badly affected by the visa issue that delayed the arrival until Thursday of a sizeable chunk of their squad.

Much bigger examinations await, starting with Argentina on Thursday in Stellenbosch, but they were good value for their 57-7 win and looked to be inspired by their support at the DHL Stadium rather than feeling pressure to perform.

Attack

128
Passes
113
129
Ball Carries
91
373m
Post Contact Metres
176m
7
Line Breaks
5

“We are playing at home and are thankful for the support,” Nhleko told RugbyPass. “South African cricket was playing today and we know the Springboks are playing next week. The important thing we keep saying to the players is you have got to perform on the field and if you do the right things on the field, the supporters will come in.

“It would be lovely for us to continue performing well, energising the crowd and hopefully if they keep coming the boys keep talking about the 24th player which is the crowd but first things first, you have got to perform for them to get behind you.

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“I thought in the first 40 minutes we were good playing off set-piece, which was our plan. Second half maybe we went away from that but nevertheless happy with the win and happy to take the five points for now. It will get tougher.”

Two aspects especially pleased the coach. “I thought the pack as a whole did exceptionally well and that allowed the backs, guys like Josh (Boulle), to really carry well and we could get our backs to play a little bit more.

“I thought our outside backs worked really hard in covering the back field and carrying… but two things stand out for me: the lineout with JF van Heerden and the scrums, the way Luca (Bakkes) and Zach (Porthen) came to the party there.”

Thursday’s round two game will see South Africa take on Argentina for the second time in less than eight weeks. They came out the right side of a 30-28 scoreline on the Gold Coast in May in the closing round of the maiden U20 Rugby Championship and know things could be just as sticky.

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“We have seen them in the TRC, they are quite a tough team. I thought Saturday was a very physical contest between them and England. They were a bit more dynamic compared to TRC, they run well from the back and played all the transitions.

“It’s probably that and their energy from set-piece. When they get going their scrums and mauls are quite dangerous and how they contest the lineouts as well. So yeah, we have got our hands full in preparing for them.”

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Tom 8 minutes ago
All Blacks snatch another tight victory from England at Eden Park

First up to any of the ABs fans who accused us of “bluster” pre-series for saying it would be a competitive - I'm glad it turned out to be an excellent series to which the ABs were deserving winners and I hope next time a side tours you'll be a little more humble. I loved the heart shown by the English boys and how they managed to contain the AB attack for large parts of the series. Was very disappointed by the lack of cohesion and ambition ball in hand, we looked after the ball poorly and hardly went 2 phases without kicking it away. We're not giving ourselves enough opportunity to put phases together and build pressure. The ambition shown in the 6N against Ireland and France seems to have gone and our players look very hesitant with ball in hand, our line speed is faster without the ball than with it. Loving seeing Maro back to his best and Fin Baxter really impressed, Alex Mitchell looks to be one of the most complete 9s in world rugby, great around the base and impeccable kicking. Congrats to the ABs, far more dangerous and skillful than England. We contained you for large swathes but to shut down that amount of pace and skill for 80 mins is nigh on impossible. Managed to find a way to win and instinctively grabbed the rare opportunities which came your way. Finding ways to win in two tight test matches will I'm sure be a great experience for your younger players. Beauden needs to be in the starting 15, what a worldie.

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