Junior Springbok captain Paul de Villiers is amongst a group of seven players that will represent the South African Under-20 team for a second year running after being named in the starting team to face Georgia in their World Rugby U20 Championship opener in Stellenbosch on Saturday.
De Villiers made his Junior Bok debut in the U20 Six Nations Summer Series in Italy last year, along with the team’s vice-captain Katlego Letebele, Gcinokuhle Mdletshe, Juann Else, Corné Lavagna, Imad Khan and Neil le Roux. All seven were included in the match day squad for the host union’s match at the Danie Craven Stadium in Stellenbosch.
Junior Springbok head coach Bafana Nhleko included five uncapped players in his starting backline and six in the pack, with Lavagna, Mdletshe and Le Roux playing off the bench.
Nhleko said aside from their experience, the capped players had to show the necessary form to make the starting team.
“We need their experience of playing test rugby,” said Nhleko. “We do not have a lot of players with that experience because as a side, we don’t play many matches against international teams, and we are going to need them to guide us on Saturday.
“It is important to note that they had to select themselves in terms of their abilities and be the best in their position as well as having the experience.”
Nhleko hopes to give as many players as possible an opportunity to experience international rugby over the first two matches, but also had Georgia in mind in naming his match day squad: “We have seen them play and there are a couple of things we hope to do against them, but as important for us will be to have the whole squad on the same page throughout the tournament.”
With heavy rain having fallen in the region in recent weeks, Nhleko said he is not too concerned about the conditions, but rather about Georgia as an opponent.
“We have been lucky to train in these really wet conditions over the last two weeks or so, but they don’t call these test matches for nothing – we will be challenged by Georgia and how we respond will be crucial,” he said.
“We have to be able to adapt to the situation at that moment, whether it is the weather or what Georgia throw at us, and I think we have a group that will be able to react to that.”
The fact that they are hosting the tournament is not a hindrance to the Junior Boks, according to Nhleko, who added that his team will be ready on Saturday: “Playing at home is motivation and not a burden. The guys want to play in front of family and friends and have locals to support them.
“Most importantly though, they will be playing for each other as a group. If we do the right things, the momentum and support will grow as we go along.
“Coaches will always tell you they need more time, but I think we are ready to play. There is only so much that you can do as coaches and management after all. There will be some nerves, but I think come Saturday this team will be ready to go.”
The Junior Springbok team to face Georgia in Stellenbosch:
15. Hakeem Kunene – uncapped
14. Jurenzo Julius – uncapped
13. Katlego Letebele (vice-captain) – 2 caps, 0 points
12. Ethan Hooker – uncapped
11. Masande Mtshali – uncapped
10. Jean Smith – uncapped
9. Imad Khan – 4 caps, 5 points (1 try)
8. Abulele Ndabambi – uncapped
7. Ghudian van Reenen – uncapped
6. Paul de Villiers (captain) – 4 caps, 0 points
5. JF van Heerden – uncapped
4. Coetzee Le Roux – uncapped
3. Mawande Mdanda – uncapped
2. Juann Else – 3 caps, 0 points
1. Phatu Ganyane – uncapped
16. SJ Kotze – uncapped
17. Corné Lavagna – 2 caps, 0 points
18. Zachary Porthen – uncapped
19. Jannes Potgieter – uncapped
20. Gcinokuhle Mdletshe – 4 caps, 0 points
21. Neil Le Roux – 3 caps, 0 points
22. Damian Markus – uncapped
23. Michael Annies – uncapped
Match information – South Africa vs Georgia
Venue: Danie Craven Stadium, Stellenbosch
Date: Saturday, 24 June 2023
Referee: Ben Breakspear (Wales)
TV: SuperSport (Grandstand)