The Junior Boks produced an excellent forward performance to make a massive statement in this year’s IRB Junior World Championship, dominating hosts New Zealand with an impressive 33-24 victory.
The South Africans came from behind after conceding two tries in the first half, to take control up front in the second half and earn themselves a bonus point.
Considering the injuries the Junior Boks had this week – they lost five players before the game – and the fact New Zealand, traditionally one of the strongest junior sides in the world, were playing at home, this makes the win a massive victory and probably one of the best performances by a South African team in the Land of the Long White Cloud.
Led by the impressive Handre Pollard, who marshaled the team from behind the scrum, the South Africans dominated the setpieces, turning New Zealand’s scrum and lineout into a liability and pressed their advantage home with a rolling maul that was hard to stop, while their defence was relentless as they hunted New Zealand’s dangerous runners down.
The bonus point should mean they are likely to get top spot in their group, and therefore technically should get the easier semifinal, avoiding a tough England team who are dominating the other pool at the tournament.
But there will definitely be work for the Junior Boks, as they made some telling mistakes in the first half, especially on the defence on the outside where Blues winger Tevita Li looked monstrous whenever he had the ball in hand.
The South Africans had gone 6-0 up after some early pressure was turned into points by Pollard’s boot when a turnover ball in their own 22 led to the first try, with the ball being spread wide by the New Zealanders with Li able to make the most of a disjointed defence to go in untouched.
The second try was a beauty, with Li getting the ball on the outside and beating five South African defenders in a run that may well go down as the try of the tournament.
Pollard pulled a penalty back to cut the deficit to five, before a missed lineout throw by the home side allowed the Junior Boks to draw level.
The ball was moved wide with some great interplay as short passes inside and out found almost the entire backline, with Jesse Kriel eventually crashing over for the try.
With the conversion missed, the All Blacks retook the lead just before the break with Simon Hickey grabbing a penalty to go into halftime 17-14 up.
The Junior Boks dominated possession early in the second half and made it count as they pushed New Zealand off a ball on their own line to win the tighthead, then sent it wide to Kriel, who passed to Pollard to score.
They then made their domination count properly as Lloyd Greeff went in at the corner.
New Zealand lock James Tucker was yellow carded with 10 minutes to go after he illegally stopped the rolling maul, allowing the Junior Boks to launch another attack, this time with Warrick Gelant scoring to secure the bonus point.
Li scored a third near the end to give the home side some hope of a bonus point, but the Junior Boks held out for a famous win.
New Zealand – Tries: Tevita Li(3).Conversions: Simon Hickey(3). Penalty:Hickey.
South Africa –Tries:Jesse Kriel, Handre Pollard, Lloyd Greef, Warrick Gelant. Conversions:Pollard (2). Penalties: Pollard (3).