The Junior Springboks suffered the heartbreak of conceding a last-minute try and conversion to be edged out of the Junior World Championships, 18-17, (halftime 6-7) by Wales in Vannes, France, on Tuesday.
The Junior Boks had twice come from behind to hold the lead in the final quarter and looked on course for a place in Sunday’s final and a chance to retain the world crown they won in Cape Town 12 months ago.
Lock forward Irne Herbst collected a short throw at the front of the lineout to crash over for the first try and give South Africa a 7-6 lead on the half hour. Then, replacement flank Kwagga Smith, reclaimed the lead for South Africa with the second try on the hour to make it 14-11.
Handré Pollard had converted both tries and added a penalty to give South Africa a 17-11 with five minutes remaining. However, Wales right wing Ashley Evans dived on flyhalf Sam Davies’ chip into the in goal area and Davies then converted from wide out on the right to give Wales a last-gasp victory.
Dawie Theron, the Junior Springboks coach, said Wales executed their game plan better on the day and kept the young South Africans in their own half for most part of the match with accurate kicks.
“We knew they would test us with a kicking game and I must say they did extremely well to frustrate us by finding favourable field positions. They forced us to run from deep and then defended well, which frustrated us and, which in turn, led to some errors.
“I want to praise the efforts of the boys throughout the tournament and especially in this match. They came back twice from behind and in the end it really hurt to lose like that, with a conversion with almost the last kick of the match. I think their flyhalf kept his cool quite well to succeed with that kick,” said Theron.
Team captain, Ruan Steenkamp, echoed the words of his coach and praised the efforts of his team mates. “We gave it our best effort but on the day it was not enough. They did their homework on us and never allowed us to create a platform for our backline. The boys are extremely disappointed because we are all very proud to represent our country.
“We have one more match left to play and we will lift ourselves and play with pride. The defeat will hurt for a while, but we have our next match on Sunday and we will play as best as we can,” said Steenkamp.
Lock Irné Herbst, who scored South Africa’s first try, said the Welsh prevented his team mates from gaining the upper hand with some fierce tackling.
“We came back strongly in the scrums and competed well in the lineouts, but they persisted with their tactic to making us turn back with long kicks into our half. We tried our best and on the day it was unfortunately not good enough,” said Herbst.
The Junior Springboks will contest the playoff for third place on Sunday against the loser of the New Zealand versus England semi-final.
South Africa – Tries: Irne Herbst, Kwagga Smith. Conversions: Handré Pollard (2). Penalty: Pollard.
Wales – Tries: Ellis Jenkins, Ashley Evans. Conversion: Sam Davies. Penalties: Sam Davies (2)