England beat the Junior Springboks 32-31 in their World Rugby U20 Championship semi-final in Narbonne on Tuesday. DYLAN JACK reports.
It is South Africa’s third consecutive U20 Championship semi-final loss to England.
The English once again displayed superior skills and decision-making, while taking their opportunities when they came.
The Junior Boks will once again be left pondering what could have been. While they showed plenty of fight in the second half to bring themselves back into contention, they were ultimately let down by a very poor start to the match that saw them concede three tries in the first 21 minutes.
England started in ominous fashion, winning their first penalty by demolishing the Junior Boks scrum, but the South Africans were hardly helped by some poor discipline, with No 8 Muller Uys getting an early yellow card for a late no-arms hit on flyhalf Marcus Smith.
The English wasted no time in exploiting their numbers advantage as some good continuity saw centre Tom Hardwick put fullback Tom Parton over for the opening try. Hardwick then grabbed a try of his own minutes later as, after an initial break by strong wing Gabriel Ibitoye, he showed great feet to step over the line.
The Junior Boks reverted to type and tried to win the tactical battle, but a poorly directed kick allowed Ibitoye to counter-attack from inside his half and put scrumhalf Ben White away to make it 19-0.
That try seemed to stun the South Africans into action as they got into England’s 22 and, after a number of pick-and-goes, big prop Sazi Sandi drove over the line to give his side a flicker of hope just before half-time.
The South Africans started the second half far better than they did the first, getting themselves straight back into the game with Uys scoring from the back of a driving maul.
Smith kicked his second penalty to extend England’s lead, before Junior Bok lock Ruan Nortje grounded the ball against the post to reduce the deficit to just six points after 54 minutes.
However, a poor handling error by inside centre Rikus Pretorius, combined with a brilliant defensive read, allowed England wing Jordan Olowofela to collect a loose ball and race away to score.
The Junior Boks kept hammering at the English line and outside centre Manuel Rass showed a surprisingly strong leg drive to get himself over the line.
Replacement prop Asenathi Ntlabakanye went over with five minutes remaining to make it a one-point game, but England then held on to the ball to see the game out and qualify for the final once again.
England – Tries: Tom Parton, Tom Hardwick, Ben White, Jordan Olowofela. Conversions: Marcus Smith (3). Penalty: Smith.
South Africa – Tries: Sazi Sandi, Muller Uys, Ruan Nortje, Manuel Rass, Asenathi Ntlabakanye. Conversions: Gianni Lombard (3).
England – TBC
Junior Springboks – 15 Gianni Lombard,14 Tyrone Green, 13 Manuel Rass, 12 Rikus Pretorius, 11 Wandisile Simelane, 10 David Coetzer, 9 Zak Burger, 8 Muller Uys, 7 PJ Steenkamp, 6 Phendulani Buthelezi, 5 Ruan Nortje, 4 Salmaan Moerat (c), 3 Sazi Sandi, 2 Tiaan van der Merwe, 1 Alulutho Tshakweni.
Subs: 16 Schalk Erasmus, 17 Leon Lyons, 18 Asenathi Ntlabakanye, 19 Ben-Jason Dixon, 20 Dian Schoonees, 21 Jack Hart, 22 Lubabalo Dobela, 23 Sihle Njezula.
Photo: Pascal Pavani/Getty Images