Junior Springboks coach Chean Roux was disappointed as his team went down 24-22 in the World Rugby U20 Championship semi-final against England at the M.Meskhi Stadium in Tbilisi, Georgia, but he said the players deserved credit for fighting until the end.
The SA U20’s trailed 17-12 at the break as England scored two converted tries and a penalty goal, while the Junior Boks’ managed two tries by No 8 Juarno Augustus and one conversion by flyhalf Curwin Bosch.
Roux’s team fought back strongly in the second half with a converted try and penalty goal to take a 22-17 lead. But a converted try by England in the dying minutes pushed them 24-22 ahead, which they hung onto until the final whistle.
“I thought the players showed tremendous character out there and fought right until the end. And in the end of it all we were only two points short of advancing to the final," said Roux.
“That said, I think a great foundation has been laid. This is a fantastic bunch of players and they are very talented. We have another game left, and it would be good if we can finish on a high and secure third place.”
England struck first in the tightly-fought first half with the captain and No 8 Zach Mercer touching down in the third minute after receiving a pass in space following a series of pick and go's. But the SA U20’s struck back minutes later with Augustus touching down thanks to good inter-passing and support play, which Bosch converted to level the scores at 7-7.
England, however, stretched their score to 17 points compliments of a converted try by scrumhalf Alex Mitchell and a penalty goal by Max Malins.
The Junior Boks reduced the deficit to 17-12 on the stroke of halftime as Augustus forced his way over the try-line from a pick-and-go.
They backed this up with another try early in the second half thanks to a well-timed dive into the traffic at a ruck under the posts by lock Ruben van Heerden to take a 19-17 lead.
Bosch added a penalty goal with eight minutes left on the clock to extend the team’s lead to 22-17, but this was cancelled out by Mercer’s second try under the uprights, which Malins converted for a 24-22 lead.
Bosch tried to force the Junior Boks back into the lead with a drop-goal soon after, but his attempt was unsuccessful, which allowed England to secure the victory.
Junior Springboks 22 (12) – Tries: Juarno Augustus (2), Ruben van Heerden. Conversions: Curwin Bosch (2). Penalty Goal: Curwin Bosch.
England 24 (17) - Tries: Zach Mercer (2), Alex Mitchell. Conversions: Max Malins (3). Penalty Goal: Max Malins.