South Africa Under-20 scored a hard-fought 31-24 victory over a tenacious England in La Roche-sur-Yon in France on Sunday evening to register their second consecutive victory at the IRB Junior World Championship (JWC).
The Junior Springboks, who are the defending champions, consolidated their place on top of the standings in Pool A (9 points) and now have one more group match to negotiate before the play-offs. They play tournament hosts France at the same venue on Thursday.
South Africa raced into a 21-0 lead after an impressive start and will perhaps feel disappointed that they did not manage to finish in a more commanding fashion. Flying wing Seabelo Senatla, scorer of four tries against the USA last week, was denied another hat trick of tries after his third effort was disallowed for an earlier infringement.
A fourth try and the accompanying bonus point would have confirmed South Africa’s place in the semi-finals with a match to spare.
They got off to a flying start and were leading 21-0 after 30 minutes of play in the first half, with the Junior Springboks pinning England in their own half with some clever positional kicks and crunching tackles.
Senatla scored two tries, one out wide after a good backline movement and another with a clever interception, while flyhalf Robert du Preez slotted a conversion and two penalties to keep the pressure in England.
The English however started to get into the match towards the end of the first half and had a try disallowed after a knock-on in the build-up. They were however rewarded for their persistence when Sam Hill (centre) crossed the line after a good offload from flyhalf Henry Slade.
Slade slotted the conversion to make the score 21-7 at halftime. A few minutes after the restart England scored again when Elliot Stooke (lock) dotted down in the corner and Slade converted from a difficult angle to reduce the score to 21-14.
But the SA U20 struck back when imposing flanker Jacques du Plessis crashed over in the corner for the team’s third try, while pivot Du Preez added a conversion and a penalty to keep England at bay.
But England fought back with some hard forward surges and they were rewarded when Stooke and Henry Purdy (reserve prop) crashed over for tries in the corner. Slade kept his side within striking distance with his accurate kicking boot, adding two conversions and a penalty.
Irne Herbst (SA U20 lock) and Tom Price (England U20 replacement flanker) were both yellow carded towards the end after a scuffle.
Dawie Theron, the SA Under-20 coach, said afterwards he was glad for the win but disappointed that his team could not secure a valuable bonus point.
“We made a very good start but did not manage to capitalise on it. This was a very good win against an English team that have won the Under-20 Six Nations and have played much longer together as a team.
“I am disappointed that we did not keep our discipline in the second half, but there were also some decisions made which were out of our control and influenced the play in the second half. We will now regroup and prepare for our next match against France, who will no doubt be a difficult customer in front of their home fans,” said Theron.
South Africa U20 (21) 31: Tries: Seabelo Senatla (2), Jacques du Plessis. Conversions: Robert du Preez (2). Penalties: Du Preez (4)
England U20 (7) 24: Tries: Sam Hill, Elliott Stooke, Hendry Purdy. Conversions: Henry Slade (3), Penalty: Slade