Cell C Sharks Vodacom Super Rugby hooker Fezokuhle Mbatha and lock JJ van der Mescht will make their first appearances for the Junior Springboks in the UK after being named as part of coach Chean Roux’s 28-man touring squad for their matches against England and Wales.
Mbatha and Van der Mescht missed all three U20 International Series clashes in the last two weeks due to their Vodacom Super Rugby commitments, but they will take up their places in the squad as the Junior Springboks move into the next phase of their preparation for the World Rugby U20 Championship in Argentina in June.
Flyhalf David Coetzer (facial injury), lock Elrigh Louw (shoulder) and David Kriel (ankle) were ruled out of selection due to their respective injuries.
Roux’s team will face England at Coventry Rugby’s Butts Park Arena on Friday, 26 April, while the clash against Wales will take place on Tuesday, 30 April, at the Vale Resort outside Cardiff.
“We’re excited to head over to the UK,” said Roux. “We’ve had three matches to have a look at the players and start developing player combinations, and this tour will offer us the opportunity to put more work into that.
“It will also give us a good idea of where Fezokuhle and JJ are in terms of their game, as they will play their first matches for the side.
“The team knows what we expect as coaches, and they certainly know what the standards are that they have to live up to.”
Roux said another benefit of the matches would be to expose the players to the demands of touring.
“Many of the players in the squad have never toured abroad before, so this will allow them to experience that before the World Rugby Under-20 Championships,” said Roux. “It will also be good for us to play in an environment where we are out of our comfort zone, as that is exactly what the players are going to face in Argentina.”
Roux highlighted the need for a vast improvement in their set pieces and said: “Two of the biggest work-on for us in the UK will be our scrummaging and lineouts; that is non-negotiable.
“We would also like to build some continuity in terms of our game in general and to work on turning our opportunities into points. We created several try-scoring chances in the last few weeks, but we didn’t use all of them, so I would like to see us step up in that regard.”
The team will return to South Africa after the tour for another training camp at their base in Stellenbosch before departing for Argentina on Wednesday, 29 May, for the World Rugby U20 Championship.
Roux’s charges will meet Scotland on Tuesday, 4 June, before taking on Georgia (Saturday, 8 June) and New Zealand (Wednesday, 12 June) in the pool stages. The semi-finals will be contested on Monday, 17 June, and the final on Saturday, 22 June.
Junior Springbok UK tour squad (in alphabetical order):
Thaakir Abrahams (Cell C Sharks), Phendulani Buthelezi (Cell C Sharks), Boeta Chamberlain (Cell C Sharks), Caleb Dingaan (Cell C Sharks), Kudzwai Dube (Vodacom Blue Bulls), Celimpilo Gumede (Cell C Sharks), Jaden Hendrikse (Cell C Sharks), Francke Horn (DHL Western Province), Hanro Jacobs (Cell C Sharks), Sabastiaan Jobb (Vodacom Blue Bulls), Andrew Kota (Vodacom Blue Bulls), Jaco Labuschagne (Vodacom Blue Bulls), Nkosikhona Masuku (Xerox Golden Lions), Fezokuhle Mbatha (Cell C Sharks), Thabiso Mdletshe (Cell C Sharks), James Mollentze (Toyota Free State), Jay Cee Nel (Vodacom Blue Bulls), Sanele Nohamba (Cell C Sharks), Asenathi Ntlabakanye (Xerox Golden Lions), Marnus Potgieter (Vodacom Blue Bulls), Rikus Pretorius (DHL Western Province), Dylan Richardson (Cell C Sharks), Evan Roos (Cell C Sharks), Sibusiso Sangweni (Xerox Golden Lions), Janko Swanepoel (Vodacom Blue Bulls), JJ van der Mescht (Cell C Sharks), Emile van Heerden (Cell C Sharks), Dameon Venter (Xerox Golden Lions)