Jean Smith contributed 18 points as the Junior Springboks overcame a late fightback by Georgia to secure a 33-23 win (half-time 20-7) in their World Rugby U20 Championship opener at the Danie Craven Stadium in Stellenbosch on Saturday.
The South African U20s were made to work for their opportunities in their opening Pool C fixture. While their scrum and maul fired, they were met at the collisions and breakdowns by a fiercely combative Georgian outfit – spearheaded by skipper Lasha Tsikhistavi.
Nevertheless, the hosts capitalised on several early chances to take control on the scoreboard. Centre Katlego Letebele chipped and regathered to cross for the game’s first try in the seventh minute. Later in the half, fullback Hakeen Kunene set up winger Jurenzo Julius for a spectacular finish in the right hand-corner.
Smith slotted both conversions and added two penalty goals to steer the hosts into a 20-7 lead at half-time. The Junior Boks may well have pushed for a couple more tries in the first stanza, but captain Paul de Villiers instructed his flyhalf to shoot for goal and build scoreboard pressure.
Georgia’s scrum hit back after the break, winning several penalties for the visitors. After a sustained period on attack, winger Luka Tsirekidze jetted in for a well-deserved try in the 59th minute.
The Junior Boks sustained yet another setback after flanker Ghudian van Reenen was shown a yellow card in the 63rd minute. Petre Khutsishvili slotted the ensuing penalty goal to reduce the deficit to two points.
But Smith stepped up to nail a long-range attempt, restoring South Africa’s advantage. The flyhalf goaled a subsequent shot from close to the touchline to take the hosts eight points clear of their opponents.
Centre Ethan Hooker crashed over for his team’s third try in the 72nd minute to clinch the result. Georgia also crossed the line for the third time – but failed to secure any consolatory bonus points.
The Junior Boks’ next assignment is against Italy U20 at Paarl Gymnasium on Thursday 29 June. The Argentina U20 side beat the Azzurri 43-15 in Paarl on Saturday. South Africa will face Los Pumitas in their final pool fixture at Athlone Stadium on 4 July.
Junior Boks 33 (20)
Tries: Katlego Letebele, Jurenzo Julius, Ethan Hooker
Conversions: Jean Smith (3)
Penalty goals: Smith (4)
Georgia U20 23 (7)
Tries: Lasha Tsikhistavi, Luka Tsirekidze, Nika Babunashvili
Conversion: Petre Khutsishvili
Penalty goal: Khutsishvili (2)