Junior Springbok assistant coach Bafana Nhleko is excited about the SA Under-20s’ warm-up matches in the next month as their preparation continues to take shape for the World Rugby U20 Championship in June.
The Junior Springbok training squad will get some vital match practice in a training match against the DHL Western Province SuperSport Rugby Challenge team in Stellenbosch on Thursday before the U20 International Series from 9 to 13 April. The team will line up against the Georgian and Argentinean U20 teams and a senior Namibia XV in the tournament.
All of the players in the Junior Springbok training squad are members of the SA Rugby Academy squad, which started their programme at the Stellenbosch Academy of Sport, early in February. The SA Rugby Academy programme runs until Thursday, 18 April.
“We are excited because we now have the opportunity to build on the work and foundation that has been put in place at the SA Rugby Academy,” said Nhleko.
“We have done a lot of work on the players’ skill-set and conditioning, and we can now prepare them for what lies ahead. Obviously we can’t replicate the pressure of a World Rugby U20 Championship, but we can measure where we are as a squad, and that will be our focus in the U20 International Series. This will also serve as a fantastic opportunity for these players to stake a claim for places in the final 28-man squad for the World Rugby U20 Championship.”
Of the training game against DHL Western Province, Nhleko said: “This will be important from a physical perspective because we have mainly been training up until now, so it will assist to get the players’ bodies contact ready and to place them in a situation where they experience match pressure. It will also allow us to see how they implement our structures under pressure in the lead-up to the international friendlies.”
Nhleko also looked forward to the U20 International Series, where the Junior Springboks will face Georgia in their opening game on Tuesday, 9 April, at Paarl Gymnasium.
“Georgia are a passionate rugby nation and they will test us physically, while Argentina play a brand of rugby that will challenge our systems,” he said.
“The Namibian XV, as a senior team, will ask different questions of us, so we are looking forward to the tournament.”
Nhleko praised the role of the SA Rugby Academy in the team’s preparations and said: “The Academy was very good for the coaching staff because we were able to see first-hand what the players have to offer with an eye on the Junior Springbok squad, but at the same time assist in their development on the field.
“And for the players who made it into the Junior Springbok mix, it offered us the opportunity to work with them on and off the field, which automatically assisted in building synergy within the group.”
With two months to go before the Junior Springboks meet Scotland in their opening World Rugby U20 Championship match at the Racecourse Stadium in Rosario on Tuesday, 4 June, Nhleko said every warm-up match counts.
“Every game will be important for us, as we are still in a building phase,” said Nhleko.
“The key going forward is to ensure that we are in the right space physically and mentally by the time we go to Argentina, and that is something Chean Roux (Junior Springbok head coach) has handled very well within the group.”
The team’s remaining pool matches at the international spectacle will be against Georgia on Saturday, 8 June, and New Zealand on Wednesday, 12 June, also in Rosario.