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The play where South Africa are expecting 'a lot more gamesmanship'

By Liam Heagney
South Africa pose for a group photo after their U20 Rugby Championship victory over Argentina (Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images)

South Africa U20s coach Bafana Nhleko has given his verdict some of the law trials that will be in use for the first time when the World Rugby U20 Championship gets started in Cape Town on Saturday. Six round one pool matches are on the schedule, with the host nation rounding off the three-game DHL Stadium programme with an evening time clash versus Fiji.


Aside for the major talking point – the introduction of the 20-minute red card – other law tweaks include a 30-second shot clock for scrum and lineout setting, the nine will not be able to be played while the ball is still near a tackle, ruck or maul, the ball must be played after the maul has been stopped once and not twice, while it will also be play on at a lineout if the ball is not thrown straight but only if the lineout is uncontested (click here to see the law trials in full).

What might transpire at the maul on day one at the Championship has Nhleko intrigued. “We have had a meeting with World Rugby and the referees and the biggest thing for us is getting clarity around the pictures they want and the interpretation.

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“We had some interesting calls in Australia for and against us and had to adapt to that. The maul one will probably be the most interesting because it is a dynamic thing. What I think we will see is a lot more gamesmanships with teams peeling or teams setting up a fake maul so they get an edge in different areas.

“The other challenge with the throwing is if you contest it or not. It will be an interesting one in terms of what strategies team have. It doesn’t change how we want to play, doesn’t change how we see things. If we feel we have ascendance in the maul we will go to it and see if we get rewards.

World Rugby U20 Championship
South Africa U20
57 - 7
Fiji U20
All Stats and Data

“The biggest thing is controlling your own discipline. Player safety is paramount and the message is clear, play hard, play really, really hard but play within the rules of the game. That is what we try to preach.”

Unlike last year they came into the 2023 tournament undercooked, the hosts are way more steeled this time around having taken part in the inaugural U20 Rugby Championship.


Staged on the Gold Coast, South Africa finished second behind New Zealand with a win, a draw and a loss and Nhleko, who touched base with Rassie Erasmus after the tournament and has recently had Mzwandile Stick assist at age-grade training, has outlined what he learned about his class of 2024 in Australia.

“The biggest thing for us was exposing the players to the understanding of what it takes to win a test rugby match. If you look at the New Zealand game we were leading until the 77th minute.

“You look at the Australia game with the red card and a yellow card later on, we are still leading in the 77th minute as well and we ended up with a draw and a loss. Then you go into Argentina where we started well but then released the pressure and we came back to win the game in the last minute so to speak.

“The biggest feedback we got was to handle momentum when it is going for us and also how to deal with it so we don’t suffer as much when it is going against us. Discipline and understanding the referee’s interpretations, it’s difficult to play games when you are one man down.


“But as a group, we reflected on what we could get better at, the one thing that stuck out was from the players themselves – you need to be on it with your fundamentals because you make one mistake and 30 seconds later you are chasing and under serious pressure.

“As a collective, as a team, our set-piece was fairly decent from a scrum perspective bar Australia. There were one or two things we needed to improve around our lineouts and the team has been working hard at that. The other thing is we couldn’t get much going from an attacking perspective.

“I don’t think our backs showed much because of the weather conditions and it’s something we would like to get going in terms of the flow and the connection between backs and forwards from an attacking point of view.

“Lastly, when we played in the right areas and we kicked a lot we were quite good but from time to time because of the frustration of not playing or getting enough ball to the backs, we tried to force the game and we also suffered from that.

“The biggest thing for us is building the connectivity between backs and forwards. What happened in the TRC is that we were just carrying with our forwards and the back were not really offering themselves and not being really connected to the game. It was almost like we were playing two different teams and it’s something we have bene working hard on and trying to drive.

“When we back from Australia, we sat down with Rassie and the coaches and discussed in detail the players and my feedback to them is always this is how he is tracking with regards to the things that you guys are looking at and the things that we are instilling; the do keep an eye on that.

“In the last alignment camp there were 16 new guys called up and 13 had been party of the Junior Bok programme in the last three to four years. We’re hoping that’s the sort of thing that keeps happening.”

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