Louis Koen, SA Rugby’s high performance manager and Junior Springbok assistant coach, described the U20 International Series as “invaluable” in the team’s preparation for the World Rugby U20 Championship, which kicks off in Argentina in June.
The Junior Springboks defeated Georgia 58-10 in their U20 International Series opener at Paarl Gymnasium on Tuesday, and will line up against a senior Namibian XV on Saturday at Tygerberg Rugby Club in Cape Town. They will conclude the series on Wednesday, 17 April, against the Argentina U20’s at Paul Roos Gymnasium in Stellenbosch.
With the SAU20s set to take on Georgia in their second pool match at the World Rugby U20 Championship in Rosario on Saturday, 8 June, and Argentina expected to be a force to be reckoned with as the tournament hosts, these clashes are particularly significant.
“It is invaluable to play against teams such as Georgia and Argentina that are preparing for the World Rugby U20 Championship, and also a tough Namibian team full of senior players” said Koen.
“This is our third year with the Junior Springboks, and in that time we have learned that the preparation has to be against world-class opposition. I think we got it right with this tournament and then tour to the UK where we will play against England and Wales. This is exactly the type of preparation we need.”
Koen singled out the team’s unwavering defence against Georgia as one of the highlights of their performance in Paarl, and said if they could build on that going forward it could prove to be one of their main strengths.
“We are happy with the progress we have made,” said Koen.
“We spent a lot of time trying to build a good defensive structure in the last few months and I think the players are beginning to understand what we are trying to achieve.
“I think it could be a weapon for us going forward, as it creates opportunities from turnover ball and allows us to apply pressure on the opposition. That was the main highlight for us from the first match and we will continue to work on it so that we can improve even more.”
Looking ahead at Saturday’s match against the Namibia XV, Koen said they took a number of lessons from Tuesday’s outing.
“We are working on a lot of small detail, especially in terms of our kicking game,” said Koen.
“We are still in the process of getting the players to understand their roles, as well as when and from where to kick, and the chase line that accompanies that. So perhaps that is the one thing we would like to improve on going forward.
“In terms of our set pieces, I think the Georgia match served as a good learning curve for the players, especially the young guys who are 19 years old. They scrummed against a very good unit, and I think that will be beneficial in their development as players and our preparation looking ahead.”
The Junior Springboks will meet the Namibia XV at 13h30, while Georgia will battle it out with Argentina at 15h15 on Saturday. Entrance to Florida Park is free, while fans can also watch both matches live on DSTV Now, SS YouTube and SS.com.