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South Africa U20 v Argentina U20: The key difference, positive future for Pumitas

By Finn Morton
Juan Smal of South Africa in action 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 have finished their Rugby Championship on a positive with flyhalf Philip-Albert van Niekerk converting a penalty after the siren minute to snatch the win 30-28 over a valiant Argentina U20 side.

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The Junior Springboks scored inside the opening minute through star centre and team vice-captain Jurenzo Julius but they couldn’t quite take control of the match from there.

Argentina stayed in the fight and ended up taking a commanding lead into the half-time sheds on the back of a stunning Franco Rossetto hat-trick. Rossetto scored a fourth towards the end of the match as well.

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Los Pumitas looked to hang on on the back of their winger’s four-try haul but it wasn’t to be in the end as a late penalty gifted South Africa the wind and saw Argentina fall to a heartbreaking defeat.

Here are a few takeaways from South Africa’s confidence-building victory.

The key difference that won the match for South Africa

It was quite clear against both Australia and New Zealand that Argentina’s strength was their forward pack. Whether it was their accuracy at the set-piece of their ability to win the collision battle around the park, that was the foundation of Los Pumitas’ success.

Playing against a talented Junior Springboks forward pack, it seemed to be a similar story on Sunday afternoon as Argentina U20s’ big men held their own without being overly dominant. Their set-piece work was practically flawless and their work around the work was solid.

But that changed a bit after the break as the South Africans took control. Argentina had lost a lineout on their own throw once during the first half, but suddenly, the set-piece was controlled by the Junior Springboks who thrived as a result.

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South Africa won their first scrum penalty in the 44th minute. They monstered the Pumitas’ set-piece, and it wasn’t the only time either. The Boks would go on to win another two scrum penalties within the first 18 minute of the half.

On the back of the team’s scrumming dominance, No. 8 Tiaan Jacobs caught Los Pumitas napping with a clever quick-tap score about six minutes into the second term. South Africa were playing with confidence and momentum at that stage.

The South African forwards also held an Argentine player up off the ground to secure a turnover on the one-hour mark. That was the icing on the cake and while the match was close, their dominance in that area really set the tone.

It wasn’t all one-way traffic, though. Argentina did win a lineout against the throw midway through the half and later a scrum penalty of their own.

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But compared to their opponents, it would be unfair to say their dominance reflected even a split-decision victory for the forwards as a minimum. It was an area of the match which had a big say on the full-time result.

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This Argentina U20 side paints a positive picture for the future

Argentina lost. It was a close game that came down to the aforementioned penalty goal after the siren, so it’s now like Los Pumitas weren’t in the fight.

What was so nearly two wins and one loss in the tournament turned into a 1-2 record with that last-play kick. International rugby is often decided by small margins and this U20s Test was no different.

But what does this result mean for Argentina Rugby moving forward? Well to put it simply, there’s every reason to be optimistic about where the South American nation is going on the international rugby scene.

Couple their three decent performances on the Sunshine Coast with the success of the men’s sevens side on the SVNS Series in 2023/24 and it might be fair to say that the future of Argentina Rugby has never been brighter.

Looking at this U20 side specifically, though, there’s every reason to believe they can improve on their most recent finish at the tournament last time around.

Argentina’s best-ever finish was 3rd in England in 2016. They smashed South Africa 49-19 to secure the bronze medal while the tournament hosts defeated Ireland to take out the world title.

Los Pumitas don’t currently look like a side that can repeat that effort. With New Zealand, England, Ireland, France and Australia ahead of them at least, it would be quite the effort should they shock the rugby world.

To be fair, they’ve done it before.

At best, this Argentina side is capable of matching their heroics from the 2019 tournament by coming fourth. In recent times they also finished 11th in 2017, 6th in 2018 and 9th in 2023.

Argentina are good enough to at least finish in the top eight if not higher. They showed on the Sunshine Coast that, other than the loss to New Zealand, they can push some quality teams to the limit.

Pumitas winger changed the game

Franco Rossetto, take a bow. The Argentina winger changed the game completely with a stunning hat-trick within a 15 minute period towards the end of the first half.

But before you read on, it’s noteworthy to mention the speedster finished with four. Rossetto hadn’t scored a try in the tournament before this match against South Africa.

Before that three-try effort, Argentina had been in the fight without throwing many punches. South Africa were hanging on and risked adding to their lead before Rossetto’s heroics.

Rossetto scored his first try in the 27th minute after running a support line off a teammate and added another shortly after as he ran onto a clever crossfield kick from Facundo Rodriguez.

The winger wasn’t done, either, with Rosetto completing a stunning hat-trick with an effort in the 42nd minute. Halfback Tomas Di Biase went shortside off a maul and found Rossetto unmarked.

Suddenly, Los Pumitas were leading by a comprehensive margin of 21-7.

Rossetto was played out of the game a little bit after the break, but any good winger can finish opportunities whenever they’re presented and the Argentine certainly fits the bill.

With a diving finish into the corner, Rossetto somehow managed to dot the ball down late in the second half with plenty of South African players pressuring him with defensive efforts.

It was a four-try haul which so nearly won the match for Argentina.

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William 5 hours ago
All Blacks vs England takeaways: Richie Who? Time for Cortez

Correct analysis of Perofeta’s bungling of the try opportunity Ben. Never ‘fixed’ Steward as he came across in defence and passed too early. Steward didn’t have to break his stride and simply moved on to pressure Telea. Never scanned the easier option of passing to the two supporting players on the inside. Beauden Barrett showed how it is done when he put Telea in for his try. Another point from the game is that the rush defence is hard to maintain as the number of phases increases. From scrums the defensive line only contains backs who all have roughly the same pace. Once forwards are involved, the defence has players with variable speeds often leading to a jagged line. It also tends to lose pace overall giving the attack more time and space. Beauden Barrett’s break to set up Telea’s try came because Baxter went in to tackle McKenzie and Steward went out to cover Telea. Barrett has a massive hole to run through, then commits Steward by passing as late as possible and Telea scores untouched. Another comment I would make is that Ben Earl is a good player and generally an excellent defender but he made three significant misses in the series, two of which led to All Black tries. Got stepped by Perofeta in Dunedin for Savea’s try, missed McKenzie in Auckland leading to what should have been a certain try being set up by Perofeta and was one of the tacklers who couldn’t stop Savea in the leadup to Telea’s first try. Perhaps he should contact Owen Farrell to pick up a few tips from ‘tackle school’.

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