Junior Springbok captain, Handré Pollard, praised the calmness and discipline of his team after they scored an impressive 33-24 win over New Zealand Under-20 at the Junior World Championship in Auckland on Friday.
New Zealand were 17-14 in front at the break, but the South Africans delivered a powerful display in the second half to eventually run out comfortable winners.
The victory ensured them of first spot in Pool C so far after two wins and they now need to secure a point against Samoa in their last group fixture to make sure of a place in the semi-finals.
Junior Boks captain Handré Pollard controlled the game superbly for his side with another sublime performance, but he was able to do so thanks to a dominant display by his impressive set of forwards, who suffered a setback as flanker Jean-Luc du Preez was replaced in the first half after he sustained a blow to the head in a collision.
Pollard said his team kept calm after NZ made all the play in the first 20 minutes: “They kept us under pressure with their fast game. We kept calm and show patience until we eventually broke through late in the first half. I think it was a battle that was won by the heart,” said 2012 JWC winner Pollard.
Prop Dayan van der Westhuizen, hooker Corniel Els and towering lock JD Schickerling were outstanding and prominent in almost every forward surge. The South Africans were top in the lineouts and won the scrum battle.
NZ wing Tevita Li punished the Junior Boks for their defensive lapses out wide by scoring three tries - two from long range.
Pollard gave the Junior Boks an early 6-0 lead with two penalties, but a turnover deep inside the SA territory allowed Li to race through for the first of his three tries.
His second was a very good solo try when he beat a cluster of SA defenders to score under the post. Pollard slotted another penalty before Jesse Kriel (centre) burst over in the corner for the first SA try after slick handling by the backs. Pollard missed the conversion and when Simon Hickey, the Kiwi-skipper succeeded with a penalty the hosts were allowed to go into the break 17-14 in front.
However, South Africa then made their physical advantage count in the second half, winning two tightheads and adding three more tries for an important bonus point. Kriel, Lloyd Greeff and Warrick Gelant each scored a try in the second half.
Li scored his third try just before the end, but by that time SA had already secured a famous victory.
Coach Dawie Theron said afterwards: “The guys really played their hearts out and put their bodies on the line for their team mates. They came off the pitch with nothing left in the tank. It was a great contest and I am very proud of the boys.”
He added the SA team will continue to work hard in training for their next match against Samoa.
“We will enjoy the moment but the guys know that we’ve not won anything yet. It is a tough competition because of the format and there is still plenty of rugby to be played. I know what it feels like to lose in the pool stage at home, and New Zealand will be disappointed and hurting but they will be itching to bounce back in their next match,” cautioned Theron.
Theron was also full of praise the leadership of his captain, Pollard.
“This is his third tournament and he has grown tremendously since playing for the team for the first time two years ago. He brings a good calmness to the team and the whole side is very composed.”
New Zealand – Tries: Tevita Li (3). Conversions: Simon Hickey (3). Penalty: Hickey.
South Africa –Tries: Jesse Kriel, Handré Pollard, Lloyd Greeff, Warrick Gelant. Conversions: Pollard (2). Penalties: Pollard (3).
The Junior Springboks’ final Pool C match is on 10 June against Samoa.