The Junior Springboks will return to international action as part of an exciting Under-20 Summer Series, competing against the Six Nations’ U20 sides and Georgia in the tournament that will be staged in Italy from 24 June to 12 July, it was confirmed by Six Nations Rugby on Wednesday.
Supported by World Rugby, the eight-nation tournament will be hosted by the Italian Rugby Federation (FIR) with matches to be played across two venues, in Treviso and Verona, over a period of three weeks.
The absence of a World Rugby U20 Championship this year, the U20 Summers Series will provide added opportunities for teams to test themselves against new opposition.
Commenting on the announcement, Sir Bill Beaumont, World Rugby Chairman, said: “U20 tournaments have proven to be a successful pathway for young talents in our unions to flourish, gain international experience and prepare for test rugby.
“Before the global World Rugby U20 Championship and Trophy return next year, we are delighted to support our unions and Six Nations Rugby in delivering the Under-20 Summer Series, a fantastic opportunity for promising rugby players to compete at the highest level.”
The Summer Series teams are split into two groups of four based on World Rugby seedings, with South Africa grouped in a strong Pool A alongside current U20 Six Nations champions Ireland, as well as France, last winners of the World Rugby Under-20 Championship, and England. Georgia, Scotland, Wales, and Italy are drawn in Pool B.
The Junior Boks will open their pool commitments against England on Friday, 24 June, and that will be followed by their second match on Wednesday, 29 June against Ireland.
The South Africans will complete their pool fixtures on Tuesday, 5 July against France before playing a final cross-pool fixture one week later, on Tuesday, 12 July, with their opponent to be determined according to the final standings.
Building up to the preparations for the forthcoming Summer Series in Italy, the SA Rugby Academy programme has been in full swing in Stellenbosch since 19 April, where a squad of 36 players is based at the Stellenbosch Academy of Sport (SAS).
Their programme included a number of training matches so far, against DHL Western Province, the DHL Stormers, Windhoek Draught Griquas, Toyota Cheetahs and most recently Georgia.
A final training game is also on the cards before Junior Bok coach, Bafana Nhleko, names his final travelling squad of 30 players for Italy early next month. He said they are very excited to play in the U20 Summer Series.
“We have done a lot of preparation work for the forthcoming Summer Series in Italy, where we will play three of the world’s top Under-20 sides in France, Ireland and England,” said Nhleko.
“It is a fantastic opportunity for our players to test themselves against some of the best international age-group players and we are very much looking forward to this big challenge.”
The Junior Bok head coach explained the training outings against the DHL Stormers, Georgia and local Carling Currie Cup sides were arranged to expose the SA Rugby Academy players to a much higher level of intensity and physicality.
“We arranged the two games in Bloemfontein – with just a three-day rest period in-between – specifically that way to simulate the short turn-around time between games in Italy,” said Nhleko.
Last year, the Junior Boks won a four-team International U20 Series staged in a bio-secure environment in Stellenbosch, featuring Argentina, Georgia and Uruguay.
In 2019, the Junior Boks finished third to clinch the bronze medal behind winners France and runners up Australia at the last World Rugby U20 Championship, hosted by Argentina. The following three editions – in 2020, ’21 and ’22 – were cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The global showpiece is set to return to the rugby calendar next year, when France, champions in 2018 and 2019, will defend their title as the top U20 side in the world.
The pools and fixtures are (SA kick-off times):
Pool A (based at Payanini Center, Verona)
France, Ireland, England, South Africa
Round 1 – 24 June
17h00: Junior Boks v England
20h00: France v Ireland
Round 2 – 29 June
17h00: France v England
20h00: Junior Boks v Ireland
Round 3 – 5 July
17h00: Junior Boks v France
20h00: Ireland v England
Pool B (based at Stadio Di Monigo, Treviso)
Scotland, Wales, Italy, Georgia
Round 1 – 25 June
17h00: Scotland v Wales
20h00: Italy v Georgia
Round 2 – 30 June
17h00: Wales v Georgia
20h00: Scotland v Italy
Round 3 – 6 July
17h00: Scotland v Georgia
20h00: Italy v Wales
Cross-pool playoffs – 12 July (proposed kick-off times):
12h30: Match 1 (4th Pool A vs 4th Pool B)
15h00: Match 2 (3rd Pool A vs 3rd Pool B)
17h30: Match 3 (2nd Pool A vs 2nd Pool B)
20h00: Match 4 (1st Pool A vs 1st Pool B)