Junior Boks edge past Argentina to seal semifinal spot in Under-20 Championship
South Africa will face Ireland in the semifinals of the Under-20 Championship after victory over Argentina on Tuesday.
South Africa qualified for the semifinals of the World Rugby Under-20 Championship after an edgy 24-16 win over Argentina at Cape Town’s Athlone Stadium on Tuesday evening.
The home side will face Ireland in the first semifinal at Athlone Stadium on Sunday, after Ireland thumped Fiji 47-27 at the Danie Craven Stadium in Stellenbosch earlier in the day.
France and England will play in the other semifinal, also at the Athlone Stadium on Sunday.
The swirling wind meant South Africa’s match against Argentina was always going to be a match of two halves, and so it proved as Argentina took a 16-7 lead into halftime — playing with the strong wind behind their backs.
But a charged-up Junior Boks side came out and showed their mettle in front of a rousing crowd to keep Argentina scoreless in the second stanza.
Clumsy first half
The Junior Springboks struggled at their set pieces early again, as they did against Italy and Georgia in their other Pool C matches.
Argentina flyhalf Valentino Dicapua made the home side pay with his accurate boot, slotting three penalties to give his side a 9-0 lead as he capitalised on SA’s errors.
South Africa barely got going in the first 25 minutes, conceding penalties at every scrum, losing every lineout on their own ball and getting pilfered at the rucks.
They were lucky to only be nine points down as an Argentina driving maul try by hooker Tomas Bartolini was chalked off after the TMO spotted obstruction in the build-up.
But after Dicapua’s third penalty, the Junior Boks began to build momentum and phases for the first time after flyhalf Jean Smith pinned Argentina into their own half with a brilliant touch-finder on the opposition 22m line.
South Africa won the subsequent line-out, their first of the match, as barnstorming inside centre Ethan Hooker made a half-break, edging close to the whitewash before No 2 Juann Else rumbled over the tryline for his second try of the tournament.
Smith converted to make it 9-7 — a scoreline that flattered the Junior Springboks, considering the momentum of the first half.
South Africa’s error-ridden first half was then summed up in a five-minute passage of play which started with a free-kick conceded because of a skew lineout throw. Argentina opted to scrum before the home side conceded their ninth penalty of the half at the eight-man shove.
Argentina kicked to touch and mauled the Junior Boks into their 22m. A quick breakaway, missed tackles by SA and deft passes by Argentina earned a try for tighthead prop Renzo Zanella. Dicapua converted to make it 16-7 at halftime.
Second half fightback
A big team talk, a cheering crowd and a gusty wind behind their backs was the recipe the Junior Springboks needed to push past Junior Los Pumitas in the second half.
After 40 minutes of suffering, the Baby Boks suddenly held their own in the scrums and started winning lineouts.
Their rejuvenation was rewarded with a straightforward penalty by Smith which he slotted between the posts to make it 16-10.
Flying winger Jurenzo Julius made an incredible run, beating several defenders from within his own 22 before passing to fullback Hakeem Kunene to score what would have been one of the tries of the tournament, but on review of the footage the TMO spotted a foot in touch by the winger.
Nonetheless, South Africa sustained pressure over Argentina through phase play and kept pushing for their second try of the match through their forward pack.
No 8 Cornѐ Beets was rewarded with for the team’s hard work, picking the ball up close to the tryline and diving over the whitewash. Smith nailed the conversation and South Africa took the lead for the first time, with 10 minutes left.
The bustling No 8 went over five minutes later to seal a hard-fought win for the host nation. Smith converted to make it 24-16. The flyhalf is yet to miss a kick at goal in the championship.
France bashed Wales 43-19 in the match before South Africa’s at Athlone Stadium to advance to the semifinals from Pool A as the only team with three wins from three.
Before that, Australia and England played to a highly entertaining 22-22 draw in their Pool B clash. It was England’s second draw of the tournament after their 34-34 draw with Ireland on Matchday 1.
Ireland, united after the death of Greig Oliver, the father of scrumhalf Jack Oliver, secured their semifinal spot against the hosts with a convincing 47-27 win over Fiji at the Danie Craven Stadium on Tuesday. DM