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Nhleko praises Junior Boks’ belief and fighting spirit

───   08:04 Mon, 13 May 2024

Nhleko praises Junior Boks’ belief and fighting spirit | News Article
Junior Springboks vs. Los Pumitas - SA Rugby

“The fighting spirit and refusal to give up is a great characteristic of the side and it bodes well for us as now that we head home to complete our preparations for the forthcoming World Rugby U20 Championship.”

Junior Springbok head coach Bafana Nhleko praised the character and fighting spirit of the South African Under-20 team after they staged a successful comeback to beat Argentina in a pulsating U20 Rugby Championship match at the Sunshine Coast Stadium in Bokarina, Queensland in Australia on Sunday.

The Junior Boks started strongly when Jurenzo Julius (centre) scored in the opening minute, but could not build momentum and Argentina hit back with three converted tries, all through left wing Franco Rossetto, to take a deserved halftime lead of 21-7.

Whatever Nhleko and his coaching staff said during the halftime break had the desired effect as the young South Africans hit back with a sensational second half display, adding three tries to their tally, all from tap-and-go penalties by Tiaan Jacobs, Casper Badenhorst and Zachary Porthen.

The game was a thrilling spectacle for the appreciative crowd and the lead changed hands a few times in a tense final 15 minutes. First the Junior Boks led 22-21 before stretching that to 27-21 before Argentina went ahead by 28-27 with five minutes left on the clock when Rossetto scored his fourth try, but a last-gasp penalty goal by Philip-Albert van Niekerk (flyhalf) after a series of forward onslaughts on the Pumitas’ try line sealed the 30-28 victory.

Afterwards, Nhleko was delighted that his team could secure their first win after coming short against Australia and a draw against New Zealand, who took the title after finishing the tournament with a 36-25 victory over Australia.

“The guys showed great character, belief and fighting spirit to shake off a disappointing first half,” said Nhleko.

“They showed glimpses of how we can play to eventually win the game against a good Argentina side. I must also praise the leadership group for the way they regrouped.

“The fighting spirit and refusal to give up is a great characteristic of the side and it bodes well for us as now that we head home to complete our preparations for the forthcoming World Rugby U20 Championship.”

The Junior Bok coach bemoaned a frustrating first half for the SA U20s, who allowed Argentina to snatch the momentum and initiative after a very good opening spell at the beginning of the match.

“We found ourselves in a very deep hole in the first half, frustratingly more from our own doing and we had to tweak a few things during halftime,” explained Nhleko.

“The players responded well as we managed the game better in the second half and imposed our systems on Argentina, which allowed us to build momentum from where we could score.

“In the previous two games, we were leading in the 75th minute but ended on the wrong side and today, we were behind yet managed to find a way, which shows growth.

“Credit to Argentina though, they made it difficult for us especially in the lineouts, but I was happy with how stopped and handled their dangerous maul, which is their energy source.

“We will take some confidence from this result, but there is a lot of room for improvement. We will keep learning through our reviews and continue to work hard in training when we assemble again in Stellenbosch,” added Nhleko.

The Junior Boks return to South Africa on Monday and will regroup again at the end of the month in Stellenbosch to complete their preparations for the World Rugby U20 Championship, which will again be staged across venues in and around Cape Town.

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