The Junior Springboks started World Rugby’s Under-20 Championship in solid fashion in Calvisano on Tuesday, beating tournament hosts Italy 33-5 in a six-try affair.
The South Africans had a 21-5 lead at the break and was never extended in the second half, adding two tries to the three scored in the first half.
Start of play was delayed as the South African bus took a wrong turn on their way to the stadium and it seemed to impact on the concentration levels of the team.
The Junior Boks started well with a strong rolling maul from the kick-off and early territory, but it was Italy who struck first.
With South Africa strong on attack, a turnover 70 meters out saw winger Yannick Agbasse break clear and sprint all the way to the other side of the field.
This sparked the South Africans into life. They countered immediately through an attacking line-out and hooker Jan van der Merwe crashed over from close range for his team’s first points in the tournament. Flyhalf Brandon Thomson slotted the conversion to pull the Junior Boks 7-5 in front after 16 minutes.
The Junior Boks kept plugging away at the Italian defence, but twice spilled the slippery ball with the try line begging. The hosts used the boot to good effect when in possession with a number of kicks behind the South African back three.
From such a kick though, Warrick Gelant danced through, but was impeded and Italian lock Davide Zanetti was given a yellow card in the 32nd minute. South Africa called another attacking line-out with Italy a man down and when the home side deliberately pulled down the maul, penalty try was awarded to SA. Thomson converted for a 14-5 lead.
Two minutes later captain Hanro Liebenberg was rewarded for a good kick chase as Italy fumbled at the back and the no8 pounced. Thomson kicked a third conversion to take the lead and halftime score to 21-5.
The second half started promisingly for the Junior Boks as lock RG Snyman raced away, but he was called back as the ball did not travel the required ten meters for the kick-off.
Good defence by Italy and some indecisive play by Liebenberg’s troops confirmed the status quo in the next 15 minutes, but another good run by Liebenberg sparked his side into action as they slowly pushed the Italians deeper and deeper into a defensive mindset. Some handling errors with the wet ball did not advance their cause though. They reverted back to the line-out drive following a penalty and Rikus Bothma was driven over by the pack for the bonus point try.
The conversion by replacement flyhalf Tinus de Beer was wide.
Theron called on his bench with a quarter to play, and Frans van Wyk provided the needed spark, despite a yellow card to RG Snyman after 73 minutes which saw the Junior Boks playing out the match with 14 players. Van Wyk scored a good team try and his team finally found some rhythm on attack near the end of the game.
Junior Springboks captain Hanro Liebenberg afterwards admitted that it was a slow start for his team.
“It was a rusty start for us and we have no excuses. Italy always play fast running rugby and did well. We can improve our line-outs and ball control, although the ball was wet and it was difficult conditions. We did better in the second half, but the first half was poor,” the captain said.
The summer heat took its toll on both teams, with several players struggling with cramps midway through the second half.
South Africa 33 (21). Tries: Jan van der Merwe, Hanro Liebenberg, Rikus Bothma, Frans van Wyk, penalty try. Conversions: Brandon Thomson (3), Tinus de Beer.
Italy 5 (5). Try: Yannick Agbasse