Junior Springbok head coach Bafana Nhleko said the tough route into the semi-finals of the World Rugby U20 Championship will benefit his squad going into Sunday’s playoff encounter against Ireland.
The Junior Springboks came back strongly in the second half of their Pool C match against Argentina at Athlone Stadium, pipping their opponents and Georgia at the post in topping the pool and qualify for the final four.
They will face Ireland at 16h30 on Sunday afternoon at Athlone Stadium. It will be followed by the second semi-final, between France and England, at 19h00.
Nhleko praised their pool opponents and said they expected a fierce challenge from Ireland.
“When we received the draw, we knew it was going to be a tough pool,” he said. “Italy and Georgia are improving all the time and they came into this tournament with clear intentions to lay a marker in world rugby.
“Argentina have always been one of the main contenders in the tournament and proved that yet again. The fact that all three have strong set pieces also made it tough – we had three hard matches against them.
“It was always going to be an arm wrestle, but I also know that the more our group play together and experience the intensity and demands of test rugby, the better we will get.”
Nhleko thanked the crowd at Athlone Stadium for their support and said it carried the team in a dramatic second half, where the Junior Boks scored two tries to secure the 24-16 win, having trailed 16-7 at the break.
“The crowd were great in their support, and I really hope they come back on Sunday when we play Ireland,” said Nhleko.
“They really carried our team when we were under pressure and the players responded well to the energy, they got from the crowd. Our players have not been exposed to this type of support and they are taking it all in.
“We left our hotel with a wonderful send-off from the staff and that goodwill continued at the stadium. It does make the players understand what a privilege it is to play this tournament in your home country and I am sure they will respond to that come Sunday again.”
Nhleko said the semi-final is the next challenge in the team’s journey.
“We played against Ireland in last year’s Summer Series and we know what we are up against, as they have a number of those players back at this tournament,” he said.
“They have really done well in winning the Under-20 Six Nations and showed some excellent form so far in this competition. They also suffered some adversity in the last couple of days and that will give them a deeper sense of purpose going into each game.
“They are a well-coached side, and their skill set will challenge us in different ways to what our pool opponents had,” Nhleko added.