Home competition discipline 14-man Junior Boks eliminated by Australia despite gallant fight

14-man Junior Boks eliminated by Australia despite gallant fight

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With the Kiwis beating Argentina 43-20 earlier in the day, only the Junior Boks are now out of the running for the Under-20 Rugby Championship title, which will be decided on Sunday.

JF Van Heerden of South Africa Under-20 wins the line out during the 2023 World Rugby Under-20 Championship game between South Africa and Georgia at Danie Craven Stadium in Stellenbosch, South Africa on 24 June 2023. Picture: Ryan Wilkisky, BackpagePix

Ashfak Mohamed

The Junior Springboks gave it their all, but a red card, a creaking scrum and poor ball retention all led to them going down 24-19 to Australia to end their Under-20 Rugby Championship title hopes on Tuesday.

It took about half-an-hour for the first points to be scored in wet conditions at the Sunshine Coast Stadium in Bokarina, Queensland, with Australian flyhalf Cullen Gray slotting a penalty.

That was due to the gritty defence of the South Africans, who showed real desperation in holding out the home side, but battled to match the intensity and precision of their 13-13 draw with New Zealand last week.

With the Kiwis beating Argentina 43-20 earlier in the day, only the Junior Boks are now out of the running for the title, which will be decided on Sunday.

Captain JF van Heerden’s try in the 32nd minute put South Africa into the lead as their tackling efforts were rewarded with a 7-3 advantage.

That was despite the red card in the 21st minute to loosehead prop Mbasa Maqubela, who made head contact with Australia lock Oliver McRea in a ruck clean-out that was initially deemed a yellow card, and was upgraded to a 20-minute red.

But the Aussies eventually breached the green wall before halftime, with hot-stepping fullback Shane Wilcox finishing his initial line-break with some help from his teammates to set up a 10-7 lead at the break.

The Junior Boks never gave up the fight upfront, with giant lock Bathobele Hlekani – who played at blindside flank against New Zealand – leading the charge with a number of powerful carries.

Tireless No.8 Tiaan Jacobs, fleet-footed centre Jurenzo Julius and his physical midfield partner Philip-Albert van Niekerk weren’t far behind, but South Africa were let down by several knock-ons in contact on attack.

They also conceded way too many scrum penalties, which handed the momentum back to Australia at critical moments.

Losing fullback Michail Damon to injury in the first minute of the second half didn’t help either, but the South Africans stayed in the fight and took the lead in the final quarter when left wing Litelihle Bester sprinted onto an Asad Moos pop pass to dot down.

But a 14-10 lead was never going to be enough, and it was that man Wilcox who grabbed his second try after wing Angus Staniforth shrugged off replacement SA fullback JC Mars’ tackle and offloaded to the Australian No.15.

The Junior Boks continued to waste a number of attacking opportunities, and it came back to bite them as they conceded a penalty try after Hlekani was deemed to have collapsed a maul in the 73rd minute.

Bester pounced for a second five-pointer from a perfect Julius chip kick in the final minute, but it was too late to snatch the victory.

Points-Scorers

South Africa 19 – Tries: JF van Heerden, Litelihle Bester (2). Conversions: Thurlon Williams (2).

Australia 24 – Tries: Shane Wilcox (2), Penalty Try. Conversions: Cullen Gray (1), Joey Fowler (1). Penalty: Gray (1).

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