Junior Springbok vice-captain and centre Wandisile Simelane, who capped off the World Rugby U20 Championship with the honour of being the joint top try-scorer with six tries, looked back at the competition with fond memories as the team prepared to depart for South Africa on Monday night.
The Junior Springboks finished the tournament – hosted in the south of France – in third place after delivering a strong performance in the bronze playoff to defeat New Zealand 40-30.
“It is a fantastic tournament,” said Simelane, who scored a hat-trick in the team’s second pool match against Ireland.
“We came all the way to France as 20-year-olds, and we were based in a very small town called Gruissan. This experience allowed us to learn about different cultures and meet new people, even though the language barrier was a challenge.
“From a rugby perspective, this a mentally and physically demanding competition. There are only four days in between games, so it asks a lot of the players. But it was a great experience for me and the team.”
Of being handed the vice-captaincy after Damian Willemse was ruled out because of injury, Simelane said: “It was easy because everyone played their part, so it was a fantastic experience. This was the first or second time that I took up a leadership role in a national team, and it motivated me to bring that 5% extra every time I had the opportunity to do so.”
Simelane shared Junior Springbok coach Chean Roux’s disappointment of not advancing to the final, but he was pleased that they finished the tournament on a winning note against New Zealand.
“It was awesome to finish the competition on a high note,” said Simelane.
“We lost by one point to a very good England team in the semi-final, which was heart-breaking and very disappointing for us. But to bounce back and beat a very good and motivated New Zealand team was fantastic.”
Looking forward, Simelane said he hoped to meet up with his team-mates in a few years and look back at their experience in France after building a brotherhood since their preparation began in February.
“The bonds we created as a group were very special,” said Simelane.
“We got closer as a group in the five months we were together, and one could see how we grew together as a squad. It will be nice to catch up in a few years and talk about our experience in Gruissan.”
The Junior Springboks will arrive South Africa on Tuesday afternoon.