Louis Koen, SA Rugby’s high performance manager and Junior Springbok assistant coach, said on Thursday the SA Under-20s team have taken big strides in their preparation in the last two weeks as their departure date for the World Rugby U20 Championship in Argentina inches closer.
The Junior Boks wrapped up their training camp on Wednesday and will have a short break in the coming days. They will re-assemble in Stellenbosch on Tuesday, 21 May, for a holding camp, where the coaches will put the final touches in place before the international showpiece.
Koen said the team were on track with where they wanted to be two weeks before departing for Argentina. The SA U20s will depart for Rosario on Wednesday, 29 May.
“We made huge gains in the last two weeks in terms of our conditioning and our systems, so we are exactly where we wanted to be at this stage,” said Koen.
“The boys will have a break now, which I think they really need, and when they come back, we can put some detailed preparation into our first World Rugby U20 Championship match.”
Their World Rugby U20 Championship opener is against Scotland on Tuesday, 4 June in Rosario. After that clash, the Junior Boks face Georgia (Saturday, 8 June) and New Zealand (Wednesday, 12 June) in their remaining pool games.
Koen said the focus at their training camp since returning from their warm-up tour the UK was on conditioning and he was satisfied with the results.
“Our training has been very good since we arrived back from the UK,” said Koen.
“The focus was on conditioning and scrum conditioning for the forwards, and we also put a huge amount of work into the set pieces, so it has been a challenging two weeks for the players. But I think we succeeded in increasing their mental strength.
“This is a tough tournament, with five games in total and matches every four days, so you need to be well conditioned and you need to be mentally tough to win it.
“When the players get back from their break we will go into the last stretch of our preparation where we will put the final blocks in place before we leave for Argentina.”
Koen said the players were excited about the challenge that awaits in Argentina, especially following the announcement of the 28-man squad that will represent South Africa in the prestigious event.
“Announcing the U20 Championship squad made a big difference because all it erased all the uncertainty about selection and the players could focus on being a team,” said the coach.
“There was definitely a change in execution and the mind-set once the team was announced, and one can see the players are excited. They just want to play now, and that is a good sign.”