The Junior Springboks got their Under-20 International Series campaign off to a winning start with a hard-fought 29-10 victory over Uruguay in Stellenbosch, and while it was the ideal way to begin the competition, they know there is room for improvement.
They scored five tries to a solitary late burst in the game by Uruguay, who held the South African side at bay for much of the first half of the match.
According to Junior Springbok head coach Bafana Nhleko this was not unexpected, as they had anticipated a nervous start.
“We did well in those early exchanges and to get into their 22 in the first half, but when we did not capitalise, the guys started to panic a little bit,” said Nhleko.
“They then managed to camp in our half for at least 10 minutes, where we just could not get out, which again proved how costly it was for us not to convert those early opportunities.”
For the coach, it was also a reality check with a number of less experienced players named to start the encounter.
“Yes, there were a number of less experienced guys on the field at one stage and it showed with some indecisiveness and impatient play, but it was a good learning curve for them, and they will be better players because of it,” Nhleko said.
“They needed to learn what international rugby was all about. It was a good learning curve, considering that they have not played at this level of intensity for a long while.”
The South Africans led by only 7-3 at the break but were much better in the second half and added 22 points to their tally.
“Yes, there was a good improvement as they guys started to play a bit more,” said Nhleko.
“Some of our systems came into play a bit more as well and we gladly take the win. Any win in the first game of a tournament is always welcome and we will take that. We have a base now where we can work from.”
It was Nhleko’s first international match as head coach, and he experienced it with a mixed bag of emotions.
“Yes, I am definitely proud, but probably more grateful than anything else,” he said.
“Just the fact that we are back on the field and playing rugby again is very satisfactory. To be part of this group and being part of international rugby again is wonderful.”
The coach, also a young father, said he was changing nappies and feeding the little one last night and early this morning.
“That helped a lot, as it took my mind of rugby for a bit, but it also put things in perspective,” he smiled.
The next round of action on Wednesday sees South Africa take on Argentina, who had a great start to their campaign, while Uruguay and Georgia will face off as they look to get their first victory.
In the opening match of the Under-20 International Series, Los Pumitas laid down a strong marker with a 82-10 demolition of the Georgian U20s. The Argentinean’s scored three unanswered tries in the first half for a 21-3 lead, but simply outplayed Georgia after the break, adding nine tries and 61 points at more than a point per minute.
Photo Credit: UAR/ Martín Seras