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The Junior Boks explanation for their heavy defeat to Argentina

By Liam Heagney
South Africa U20s warm up before their loss to Argentina (Photo by Nic Bothma/World Rugby)

Bafana Nhleko doesn’t do sour grapes. Prior to climbing the stairs to front the media after South Africa had been thrashed 12-31 by Argentina at the World Rugby U20 Championship, he made a point of walking further along the corridor to knock on the door of the South Americans and enter their dressing room to say well done.

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The Junior Boks had won the previous two games they had played against the Argentinians. Now, with the tables drastically turned, the South African age-grade coach felt compelled to acknowledge the effort put in by the opposition.

“We played them last year and beat them. We played them again this year and beat them. I have gotten to know their coaches quite a bit and the management team,” he explained to RugbyPass before jumping on the bus back into Cape Town with the heavy rain continuing to fall.

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“You can see what it means to them, they lost the first game (to England) and you have got to give credit where it is due. They had a plan, they stuck at it and they released all the way through.

“It [visiting their dressing room] is the right thing to do, I am on the wrong side of it today but good men, well deserved victory. Also nice to see another southern hemisphere team I guess in a different way and we are good pals.”

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It was last year at the same round two stage of the tournament when the Junior Boks endured another ambush, Italy beating them in the mud of Paarl. South Africa were able to shrug off that loss, squeezing past Argentina in their final pool match to top the pool and secure semi-final qualification.

However, they face a far stiffer challenge than in 2023 if they are to keep alive their proud record of making the semi-final at every World Rugby U20 Championship bar 2011 when they finished fifth.

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Only a win over England where the match points outcome is 5-0 can put them level with the English on 10 points and see them top the pool on the head-to-head ruling. A win that isn’t as generous would see them finish second in the pool and likely need the Pool A game between Wales and France to end in a draw if they are to progress as the sole best runner-up.

That quite a tall order but Nhleko promised his team will go down fighting at Athlone next Tuesday. “We are always going to believe in ourselves to fight back. It’s not through lack of effort that we lost today or anything like that… and we have to believe.

“We are not sure what is going to happen in the other game but if we do the right things, we can always give ourselves a chance and hopefully we will be on the right side of that.

“Probably discipline was one of the areas (that let us down). We released a lot of pressure on Argentina, that gave them energy and gave them energy at set-piece and we couldn’t really repel the maul for the first half at least.

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“If you take those two areas in particular it’s probably where we came up short. Outside of that we still tried to play, still tried to get ourselves into positions, but then error on error stacking up, it’s just difficult to win the game from that perspective.”

So second best were South Africa that Argentina had the four-try bonus point secured as early as the 48th minute, leaving home fans in the healthy Stellenbosch crowd disappointed with what they were seeing.

“We are devastated on their behalf,” continued Nhleko. “The one thing I am most disappointed in outside the result is the performance that we put up, especially for a crowd that made such a great effort to come in.

“They were fantastic, they supported us right until the end but it wasn’t to be. I am just sorry that we couldn’t really pull it through and give ourselves a better performance but let’s hope they stick by us and we hope to show the right character for the next game against England.”

The life of a coach is to inspire confidence in the players and staff around him, but who picks up Nhleko in a difficult time such as now when the odds are against the Junior Boks making the semi-finals at their home World Cup.

“My son is not heavy enough to pick me up but I’ll go home and he’ll smile and all those things. No, I think we have got a good support structure within our organisation, from our high performance manager, general manager.

“Again, I keep stressing, we understand the process, we understand what we are about and part of the bigger picture here is to win this thing but the biggest picture of it all is making sure that five, six, however many of these young boys, become Springboks in the near future.”

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Comments

6 Comments
B
Barry 15 days ago

Serious win. Worth double considering how juiced up them Currie cup boys would have been.

Got utterly arse-holed.

D
Dave 15 days ago

Nice piece of sportsmanship diplomacy from Bafana. Full praise for the man.

B
Bret 15 days ago

I never thought I’d see a Springboks team (no matter the age group) get beaten up in the mauls and lineouts and lose a game in this manner in their own country. Argentina gave them a hell of a game. Well done ARG!

J
Jon 15 days ago

Sloppy game. Poor ball protection on carries and shockingly bad lineouts in the rain

F
Flankly 15 days ago

Baby Bok complacency, after the outsize Fiji victory and previous wins vs Argentina. My guess is that they were looking ahead to the England game.

There is no excuse for the team not being more competitive. Win or lose they should have been in the game, but they just looked blunt, inaccurate and bereft of ideas. And it has probably cost them a shot at the title. Disappointing.

Well played Argentina.

D
David 15 days ago

Wonderful result for SH rugby. A highly competitive future Argentina is very welcome.

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