Will it be third time lucky for Baby Boks?
The Junior Springboks will have to assert themselves in the set-pieces tomorrow if they want to beat England’s Under-20s in the semifinal of the World Rugby Under-20 Championship in Manchester.
The teams face off at 8.45pm in the second semifinal of the competition for a place in the final.
The South Africans have, for the past few years, logged an undesirable record against the Young Roses that they will want to wipe out. In the 2014 tournament, after the team started the final in New Zealand as favourites, they were trumped for the trophy by the English by a single point.
And last year, with England beating them 28-20 in the semifinals, the Junior Boks had to be satisfied with third place.
Coach Dawie Theron knows his team will have to play at their peak if they want to end their losing streak against England and strengthen their claim to a second trophy under his leadership.
The expectation is that the Young Roses will stick to their traditional strong style – line-outs, mauls and scrums. That is what the Baby Boks need to perfect, given that this has proved to be the team’s downfall in recent years.
The South Africans will have to make smart choices if they want to stay fully in the game for its 80minute run. Their game plan may consist of keeping the ball moving, in an effort to keep the English forward pack out of the game for as long as possible. They have the players who can keep the game at high tempo in fullback Curwin Bosch and fly half Manie Libbok.
But for this to be possible, the team will have to be more accurate, especially in handling their possession. In both first halves of the group matches against Japan and France, the Junior Boks’ ball distribution and basic skills were not up to scratch. But in the second 40 minutes of these games, things went more smoothly.
However, against a team such as England, they cannot afford mistakes where they lose the ball and give their rivals an opportunity to launch counterattacks. Accuracy from kickoff will therefore be paramount.
Jeremy Ward, centre and captain of the Baby Boks, will have to take the lead. There is much pressure on the youngster’s shoulders to keep his backs level-headed.
England did not fare too well in their last group match against the Wallabies – and in light of that, the Boks ruffled the New Zealanders’ feathers with good play.
Still, the English Under-20s, who conceded only two tries in this year’s competition, remain the favourites to beat the Junior Boks for the third time in a row in the knockout stages of the championship in their back yard.
Ireland and Argentina face off in the first semifinal at 5.30pm tomorrow.