The South African under-20 side surged into the semifinals of the IRB Junior World Championship on the back of a magnificent second half performance to beat England 28-15 at Cape Town Stadium on Tuesday night.
The Baby Boks had a tough task at the start of the game, especially as Ireland’s win over Italy meant they needed to win with a bonus point if they were to leapfrog both England and the Irish and get themselves back into contention for the title.
And if that wasn’t bad enough, they also lost the services of their captain Wian Liebenberg and replacement flyhalf Tony Jantjies two hours before kickoff to injuries.
Their task, already tough after their opening round defeat to the Irish, looked even tougher when England started strongly and dominated the first half, with only some strong and desperate tackling keeping the English from racking up a lead.
In fact, such was the desperation that four times the English were stopped close to the line, and had to be content with a 3-0 halftime scoreline.
Still, at the break, it was the English who looked set to come out stronger after the break, but the home side finally found their mojo and produced a perfect 40 minutes to score the four tries needed and surge into the semis.
They will now face Argentina in their one semifinal, while New Zealand have a chance to avenge their defeat at the hands of Wales last week when they meet in the other semifinal.
On a night where rugby was showcased at the beautiful Cape Town Stadium, it seems a tragedy that this beautiful structure isn’t used more as the surface looked in pristine condition for the game.
And as the second half started, it was the Baby Boks who took control, with stand-in captain William Small-Smith grabbing the opening try as he hit the line with pace after a perfect pass into the gap from his midfield mate Jan Serfontein.
The fact that the try happened so against the run of play considering the previous 40 minutes was stunning in itself, but the way Small-Smith found the gap and surged towards the line was enough to give the Baby Boks hope that their task was far from impossible.
They got their second shortly afterwards, as Steven Kitshoff was stopped centimetres from the line, only to have flanker Shaun Adendorff, who must surely be close to the team’s internal man of the tournament award, grab the ball and go over for the try.
But the English, as tenacious as they are, were far from done. Two surging darts down the middle, and two penalties later, the Boks' lead was cut to 14-12 and a tense last 20 minutes awaited them.
The workrate of players such as Pieter-Steph Du Toit, Ruan Botha and Paul Oosthuizen, not to mention Adendorff’s heroics were simply superb, while Paul Jordaan’s sniping runs and aggressive defence didn’t go unnoticed.
And the Baby Boks were far from letting this one slip through their fingers.
Du Toit found himself in the backline on the hour mark, and slipped two tackles to go over untouched to restore the lead and the Baby Boks’ confidence.
But it was left to Adendorff, who came off the wing at a superb angle, to run through space and fly over the line, giving the home side their fourth try and a 16 point lead, enough to get them to the top of the group.
England took a late penalty to reduce the deficite with three points, and despite hogging most of the possession in the last 10 minutes, weren’t able to breach the Baby Bok defence.
The final whistle sounded like a melody for coach Dawie Theron, who punched the air in delight knowing that his team had escaped being kicked out of the tournament, and now with these 40 minutes, have a superb chance of getting to the final and possibly even winning on home soil.
South Africa under-20: Tries: Shaun Adendorff (2), Pieter-Steph Du Toit, William Small Smith; Conversions: Handre Pollard (4).
England under-20: Penalties: Tommy Bell (5)