Junior Boks edge closer to Six Nations Summer Series final
With two wins and a maximum 10 log points, the Junior Springboks just need one point from their final Pool match to top the group.
South Africa’s 33-24 Under-20 Six Nations Summer Series win over Ireland left them on course to make the final if they can beat France in their final pool match next week
Ireland were torn apart before the break by an unflinching Junior Springbok pack, with the bonus-point score coming after just 35 minutes for Bafana Nhleko’s side.
Ireland were vastly improved after the break and gave their travelling support something to savour when Dylan O’Grady, Oisin Michel and captain Reuben Crothers all crossed.
But it was not enough to overturn the damage of the first half, and Richie Murphy must find a quick solution if Ireland are to avoid finishing bottom in Pool A.
South Africa struck first after dominating the early stages, with Cameron Hanekom powering over from close range, adding to his score from round one against England.
Ireland were then gifted an immediate opportunity to strike back when Boks hooker Tiaan Lange was penalised deep inside his half.
But the throw from James McCormick was deemed not straight by referee Benoit Rousselet. That did not deter Murphy’s side, however, and they slowly began to assert themselves thereafter.
After a succession of penalties, captain Reuben Crothers opted for a shot at goal and Sam Prendergast had the simple task of striking Ireland’s first three points of the game.
But the decision to not go for the corner seemed to reinvigorate South Africa, who perhaps sensed trepidation in the Irish ranks.
Whereas Ireland seemed to lack the decisive pass or break, South Africa had dangerous runners in vast supply, and three different scorers then added their name to the scoresheet in a destructive 10-minute spell.
Lock Reinhardt Ludwig powered over from close range for the first, as the Irish pack struggled to compete with the intensity of their Bok counterparts.
Ludwig was next to cross with another upfront finish, and the forwards were lining up by this point, with Lange next, followed by Corne Rahl.
There was cause for Irish optimism going into the break, however, as Lange was penalised again, this time for a high tackle which prompted a yellow-card.
Ireland could not quite make use of the man advantage but ironically did cross as soon as Lange returned. After winger King came within metres of the whitewash, only to lose his footing with the line at his mercy, fellow flyer O’Grady finished off a cracking move.
With numbers stacked on the blind side, Prendergast put through a delicate grubber for his Leinster teammate. Having beat Donovan Don for speed, the ball sat up perfectly for O’Grady.
That proved the highlight of the game for the Irish though, as South Africa soon struck back. Replacement hooker Lukhanyo Vokozela powered his way over for a fifth score for the Bok pack.
As the game began to meander, Ireland did muster a second score. Prop Oisin Michel pushed through after a tap penalty from in front of the posts.
Then with the clock in the red, captain Crothers scored to end the game on a positive note ahead of Ireland’s final pool fixture against England next Tuesday.
Nhleko mentioned afterwards that he was happy with the win, considering that the South African U20s had made six changes to their starting pack.
“We knew that Ireland would be hurting (after losing to France) and the way they came back in the second half put us under pressure,” said Nhleko, who added his side did well to close the game out.
“It’s part of the learnings for our group and the conditions were not easy because of the heat and humidity, which made for a slippery ball.”
Following South Africa’s impressive start, it was the Irish who grew in confidence in the second half to score three times while limiting the Junior Boks to just one try.
“They were unbeaten in the U20 Six Nations and showed their pedigree in the second half,” said Nhleko.
“We wanted to stop them from getting quick ball at the breakdown and from gaining momentum, and I thought we were successful in that.
“But there were times when we left them off the hook and put ourselves under pressure.” DM
The Six Nations Under-20 Summer Series takes place from 24 June – 12 July. Fans can watch every match live here.
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