The Junior Springboks will face Ireland with an unchanged match-day squad in the first semi-final of the World Rugby U20 Championships at Athlone Stadium in Cape Town on Sunday afternoon.
With no injury concerns following their hard-fought 24-16 victory over Argentina in their final Pool C match at the same venue on Tuesday, Junior Bok head coach Bafana Nhleko opted for continuity in his match-23, in the hope that it would quell the slow start the team experienced in their matches thus far in the tournament.
The selection is also good reward for the incumbents, Nhleko said.
“We wanted some consistency and continuity, and we are hoping that the good second half effort against Argentina will spill over into the match against Ireland,” said Nhleko.
“We found our way in the second spell and hopefully we can use that momentum against the Irish.
“It is tough if you are always behind the eight ball and chasing the game as we have been in our last two matches, so we believe by staying with the same group that came through against Argentina will stand us in good stead.
“We know Ireland is an extremely consistent side – both in performance, selection and their style of play – and we did not want to tinker too much ourselves as we have found some of the same in the last match.”
The two teams met last year in the Six Nations U20 Summer Series in Italy, where the South Africans won by 33-24 in Verona, but Nhleko said that victory does not really reflect on the current Junior Boks side.
“We have two or three players who played in that game, and they have at least two thirds of their squad that come to this tournament, so I don’t think there is much to see from that perspective,” he said.
“The fact that we beat them last year does not count for much. The occasion is different and so are our players. The reality this time around is that it is a knock-out game and whatever you do on the day, you just need to win.”
For Nhleko, the semi-final does not bring additional pressure: “The pressure was to progress from the group stages, and we did well in that regard. This match is totally different – it’s a sprint. You want to get out of the blocks early, get a lead and finish in front of everyone.”
Nhleko said they are hoping that a big crowd will again rock up at Athlone Stadium on Sunday, to lift his team with their support.
“It is a lovely Sunday afternoon to spend with rugby, there are some good teams on display and the match after us is also a good one,” he said, referring to the second semi-final between France and England.
“We got massive energy from the crowd against Argentina, and it will be great to experience that again. It will be nice to have a good crowd and for all teams to soak up and enjoy the experience.”
Kick-off is at 16h30, with the second semi-final scheduled for 19h00. The first game of the day is between New Zealand and Australia, at 14h00. Tickets are available from Ticketmaster and all the action will be broadcast live on SuperSport.
Junior Springbok team to face Ireland in Cape Town:
15. Hakeem Kunene – 2 caps, 0 points
14. Jurenzo Julius – 3 caps, 10 points (2 tries)
13. Katlego Letebele (vice-captain) – 5 caps, 10 points (2 tries)
12. Ethan Hooker – 2 caps, 5 points (1 try)
11. Michael Annies – 3 caps, 0 points
10. Jean Smith – 2 caps, 27 points (6 conversions; 5 penalty goals)
9. Imad Khan – 6 caps, 11 points (1 try, 3 conversions)
8. Corné Beets – 2 caps, 10 points (2 tries)
7. Ghudian van Reenen – 3 caps, 0 points
6. Paul de Villiers (captain) – 7 caps, 0 points
5. JF van Heerden – 3 caps, 0 points
4. Coetzee le Roux – 2 caps, 0 points
3. Dian Heunis – 1 cap, 0 points
2. Juann Else – 4 caps, 10 points (2 tries)
1. Corné Lavagna – 5 caps, 0 points
16. SJ Kotze – 3 caps, 0 points
17. Phatu Ganyane – 3 caps, 0 points
18. Zachary Porthen – 3 caps, 0 points
19. Jannes Potgieter – 3 caps, 0 points
20. Abulele Ndabambi – 2 caps, 0 points
21. Asad Moos – 1 cap, 0 points
22. Damian Markus – 3 caps, 5 points (1 try)
23. Regan Izaks – 2 caps, 0 points