France dominated while Junior Springboks end Under-20 Championship on a high

France dominated while Junior Springboks end Under-20 Championship on a high
Paul De Villiers (centre) of South Africa during the World Rugby U20 Championship 2023, third-place play-off match against England at Athlone Sports Stadium in Cape Town on 14 July 2023. (Photo: Ashley Vlotman / Gallo Images / World Rugby)

South Africa clinched their ninth World Rugby Under-20 Championship bronze medal on Friday night before France stormed to a third consecutive title.

The Junior Springboks ended their World Rugby Under-20 Championship campaign with a wholehearted 22-15 win over England in the third/fourth place playoff on Friday evening at Athlone Stadium in Cape Town. 

The victory means South Africa claimed an unprecedented ninth Under-20 Championship bronze medal finish.

Unlike traditional South African forward packs, the Junior Boks were smaller than their opponents throughout the tournament.

Although they had in previous matches stood up manfully and stayed in the fight, on Friday evening the Junior Springboks blasted over and through the enormous English forward pack. 

All three of South Africa’s tries were scored by forwards — Juann Else, Corné Beets and Hennie Sieberhagen — who worked tirelessly as a unit to get their side over the line. 

“I know the tournament is not only about winning. We need to develop these guys, but it is important to, you know, to get a third place, especially at home,” head coach Bafana Nhleko said after the clash. 

Quewin Nortje of South Africa during the World Rugby U20 Championship 2023, third-place play-off match against England at Athlone Sports Stadium in Cape Town on 14 July 2023. (Photo: Ashley Vlotman / Gallo Images / World Rugby)

“We showed good character… that aside, we’ve been getting better. 

“Game One [against Georgia], we were sort of okay. Game Two [against Italy], obviously not great… the weather conditions were not great and we just struggled at set pieces.

“But we saw good improvements in the second half against Argentina [in Game Three].” 

“We went through the Irish [semifinal] game; we were actually in it for 70-odd minutes and they literally had five opportunities and they took four. We had 17 and we only took two and today we had a plan and we stuck to it.” 

The 22-15 final scoreline was the halftime scoreline too, with neither side able to put points on the board in the second 40 minutes. South Africa’s defence stood resolute in the face of England’s pressure. 

“We suffered a bit at the end with injuries and cramps but the character was amazing and again, third place is not what we came for,” Nhleko added. 

“But for us as a group, it is important and for these guys who are experiencing international rugby for the first time, especially against the packs that we played against. I thought the boys did very well.” 

Dominant start

England flyhalf Connor Slevin got the ball rolling with a penalty goal to open the scoring on a warm, dry late afternoon. 

Soon after that, the Junior Boks forwards sunk their teeth into the game and flanker Sieberhagen, playing his first match of the tournament, reaped the rewards of strong carries from the pack. 

The home side jumped to a 17-3 lead after 21 minutes thanks to a hard-fought try by Beets — who carried two defenders over the line with him — and a penalty by Jean Smith. 

England then hit back with one of the tries of the tournament. 

Proving that a kick is only as good as its chase, a long-range kick-return by Smit found vacant space but was pursued by a scattered defensive line. England speedstar Cassius Cleaves returned it with interest through a scathing, meandering run from inside his own 22m. 

After evading three would-be, scattered South African tacklers, Cleaves had options on either side before he found a willing support runner in hooker Craig Wright, who dashed 40m to score England’s first try. 

Hooker Else restored the Junior Springboks’ momentum with a try off the back of a strong rolling maul. The try was Else’s third of the tournament, topping the side’s team chart alongside Beets. 

But England hit back with a rolling maul try of their own after the halftime hooter, scored by No 8 Zach Carr.

South Africa maintained their 22-15 halftime lead until the full-time hooter as the second 40 minutes played out more cagily than the free-running first. 

France crowned champions 

france ireland

Mathis Ferté of France (right) and Brian Gleeson of Ireland during the World Rugby U20 Championship 2023 final on 14 July 2023 in Cape Town. (Photo: Ashley Vlotman / Gallo Images / World Rugby)

Immediately after South Africa’s triumphant end to the tournament, their semifinal opponents, Ireland, were smashed 50-14 by France in the final. 

Almost all the rugby happened in the second half. France held a slim 17-14 lead at halftime and then broke the shackles to score 33 unanswered points in the second.

“The French are very good. We knew that going in,” Ireland head coach Richie Murphy said after the final.

“We knew that we were going to have to be very accurate in order to get ourselves in the game.

france ireland

John Devine of Ireland scores a try during the World Rugby U20 Championship 2023 final against France. (Photo: Ashley Vlotman / Gallo Images / World Rugby)

“We started off pretty well. There’s a couple of big moments in the game where we’re very much in it… a couple of things have gone against us. [Conceding] a try in the 41st minute is a killer.”

After a tight start to the game, Ireland prop Paddy McCarthy was given a yellow card, which shifted the momentum firmly in France’s favour.

The French scored two tries in McCarthy’s absence and rampaged through the Ireland defence for long spells in the second half.

France won the World Rugby Under-20 Championship in a dominant fashion, and there was a gulf in class between the two finalists and the other competitors. DM


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