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Junior Boks book semifinal spot in World U-20 champs

Jean Smith of South Africa U-20 is tackled by Benjamin Grondona of Argentina U-20 in their World Rugby U-20 Championship 2023 group C match at Athlone Stadium in Cape Town on July 4 2023.
Jean Smith of South Africa U-20 is tackled by Benjamin Grondona of Argentina U-20 in their World Rugby U-20 Championship 2023 group C match at Athlone Stadium in Cape Town on July 4 2023.
Image: Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images/World Rugby

The Junior Springboks secured their place in the semifinals of the World Rugby U-20 Championship with a superb second half performance, grinding out a 24-16 victory (half time 7-16) over Argentina on a cold and windy Tuesday night at Athlone Stadium in Cape Town.

South Africa, who topped Pool C, will face Pool B winners Ireland in their semifinal on Sunday, while the other top-four playoff will be between England, who finished second in Pool B, and Pool A winners France.

Playing with intensity and tiring out the Argentineans, who were kept scoreless after the break, the Junior Boks did what was needed and if not for a few close scoring opportunities in the second half the margin could have been wider.

But the South Africans won’t complain about the score, as all they needed was victory, though they made life difficult for themselves at times.

If playing against the stiff breeze in the first half wasn't tough enough, the South Africans also played into their opponents’ hands with bad discipline and a basically non-existent set piece.

Conceding penalties at regular intervals — three of which were turned into points by Argentinian flyhalf Valentino Dicapua, while there was also a disallowed maul try — meant the South Americans were on the front foot for most of the first half.

The hosts were made to defend for large periods of the first half, which they did with gusto, though there were a few slipped tackles.

The Junior Boks had a handful attacking opportunities they failed to convert, but in the 27th minute they finally got some reward for showing patience in Los Pumitas' 22 when hooker Juann Else went over for the first try of the match. Flyhalf Jean Smith converted to make it 9-7.

Junior Boks captain Katlego Letebele speaks after the win against Argentina.

But when lock JF van Heerden was sent to the sin bin four minutes later for a maul infringement, Argentina struck when burly prop Renzo Zanella crashed over for a try, with Dicapua's conversion restoring their nine-point lead.

Smith made it 16-10 early in the second half after which the game turned into a real arm-wrestle as the Argentineans tried to play, and the Junior Boks tackled and tackled. This was interspersed by some good attacking plays by the fleet-footed backs, while the pack also considerably upped their game.

The home team had a few close calls, once when fullback Hakeen Kunene was over but the TMO spotted a foot in touch by wing Jurenzo Julius, and again later when they were held up over the try line.

That did not deter them and with 11 minutes remaining the irrepressible No.8 Corne Beets crashed over for a try, converted by Smith, that gave the Junior Boks the lead for the first time in the game.

Six minutes later Beets, who was named the player of the match, sealed the deal with his second try, also converted by Smith, which gave the Junior Boks an eight-point lead.

Scorers:

Junior Springboks 24 (7) — Tries: Juann Else, Corné Beets (2). Conversions: Jean Smith (3). Penalty goal: Smith.

Argentina U20 16 (16) — Try: Renzo Zanella. Conversion: Valentino Dicapua. Penalty goals: Dicapua (3).