Junior Boks and New Zealand play an exciting draw

South Africa and New Zealand have endured many excellent battles on the rugby field and Thursday’s first match of the inaugural Under-20 Rugby Championship between the old rivals continued the excellent tradition.

It finished 13-13 in treacherous conditions, with New Zealand scoring two tries to SA’s one. New Zealand’s second try, scored by right flanker Frank Vaenuku, leveled the score and Rico Simpson missed the conversion to give them the lead with two minutes remaining.

The Junior Boks were down to 14 men at the time and binned JF van Heerden for an earlier infringement near their line.

Both parties will be happy with the result and will regret the missed opportunities when they do their analysis. It was that kind of day, where every pass and moment of contact could have resulted in a fumble.

Torrential rain

A torrential downpour two hours before kick-off at Queensland’s ironically named Sunshine Coast Stadium put the match in jeopardy. An hour before kickoff, staff were soaking the pitch. At that point, the teams were still unsure if the match would go ahead.

That’s how it was, but in a field spoiled by puddles of water everywhere. He ensured that keeping the inevitable errors at manageable levels would be essential and that the contest would be a battle of attrition even more than usual. But it was also compelling and a true test of the determination and character of both sets of players.

Malachi Wrampling-Alec, Junior Boks, Urenzo Julius

New Zealand’s Malachi Wrampling-Alec is tackled by Jurenzo Julius in the difficult conditions (Photo: Albert Perez/Getty Images)

Junior Bok captain Zachary Porthen revealed the team’s mentality after the match, explaining that excuses are not tolerated in his environment. “We can’t control the weather, we have to control what we can,” was Porthen’s assessment.

And for 40 minutes the Junior Boks had very little control as they played in ankle-deep water and a strong wind. But they attacked and defended brilliantly and stayed in the game, only 3-0 down at half-time, courtesy of a single Isaac Hutchinson penalty.

Had New Zealand been more clinical or more inclined to kick the posts, the damage might have been worse at half-time. As it was, being down by just three points was a victory for the Junior Boks and despite conceding a try in the 53rd minute when the Baby Blacks’ impressive left winger Stanley Solomon slipped in the corner.

The try went slightly against the run of play with the Junior Boks heavily attacking, only to see left wing Litelihle Bester’s chip intercepted and hacked deep into SA territory. In the defensive struggle, New Zealand won a scrum and from that set piece went wide of the first phase where Solomon scored.

Joel Leotlela, Junior Boks

Junior Bok right wing Joel Leotlela scored the team’s only try on their way to a 13-13 draw against New Zealand. (Photo: Albert Pérez/Getty Images)

Going deeper

It could have marked the end of the contest for the minor teams, but the Junior Boks held on. Almost from the restart to the try, they won a penalty and wisely went for pole position. Flyweight Tyler Sefoor scored the first of his eight points on the night.

Minutes later, South Africa scored their only try when defensive pressure led to a New Zealand error in their own 22-metre area.

Bok flanker Joel Leotlela chased down a kick from scrum-half Asad Moos and forced an error and hit from Simpson, who was caught on the ground by SA hooker Ethan Bester. From the recycled ball Leotlela was available to finish. Sefoor converted and South Africa suddenly took the lead.

Another penalty from Sefoor extended the lead and South Africa could have decided the game with another shot at goal from the tee, which went wide.

New Zealand did well to hold on at a time when the Junior Boks were rampant, but how the referees overlooked their tactic of regularly and blatantly keeping the South African players beyond the ruck remains a mystery.

With Van Heerden convicted for a professional foul, the Junior Boks played the final seven minutes with 14 men and inevitably the Baby Blacks found a way to the try line.

In the final move of the game, South Africa were awarded a penalty deep in their half, but in the treacherous conditions, they opted to hit and kick it to end the game, rather than going for victory.

Under the circumstances, it was probably a wise choice, because the risk of losing outweighed the reward of winning in the first round of the tournament. DM


South Africa — Test: Joel Leotlela. Conversion: Tylor Sefoor. Penalty: Sefoor (2).

New Zealand — Attempts: Stanley Solomon, Frank Vaenuku. Penalty: Isaac Hutchison.