The Junior Springboks were made to fight hard to overcome a courageous Argentina Under-20 rugby team by 25-22 in the first of two matches between the sides late on Tuesday in Santa Fe, Argentina.
Los Pumitas led 15-10 at halftime after they dominated possession and territory while playing with a strong wind in their favour in the first half. They scored two tries and a penalty to take a deserved lead, while the Junior Boks answered with a converted try and a penalty to stay within distance despite their many unforced errors.
The young South Africans used their dominance in the scrums and set pieces to much better effect in the second half, adding a penalty and an excellent try to edge out the hosts in front of a passionate crowd.
Los Pumitas took an early 5-0 lead after prop Christian Bartolini barged his way over in the corner with less than three minutes on the clock. SA Under-20 fly half Ernst Stapelberg slotted a penalty seven minutes later to make the score 5-3, but it was the home team who crossed the line again after flanker Jose Deheza finished a sweeping move (12-3).
Fullback Emiliano Bofelli then hit the target with his first penalty kick after the visitors were penalised for a repeated offence, which also saw left wing Leolin Zas yellow carded.
With the breeze in their favour, the Junior Boks made a better start in the second half. Hermanus, now back on the field of play, took the final pass to dot down after an impressive passage of forward play.
That try levelled the scores at 15-all and South Africa took the lead for the first time several minutes later via the boot of Stapelberg who succeeded with a penalty (18-15). However, just minutes later the home team regained the lead when Bofelli ran in to score for a try which he also converted (22-18).
With the clock marching on and Los Pumitas defending courageously, the Junior Springboks were made to fought extremely hard for their winning try. It eventually came via a strong run down the middle from impressive No 8 Dan du Preez. When Stapelberg added the conversion it secured a hard-fought 25-22 victory.
Dawie Theron, the Junior Springbok coach, was afterwards a relieved man.
“We had a long journey coming here, had only one full training session and a bus trip of more than two hours to the stadium today. I told the players this match would be a huge test of character for them and Argentina did exactly what we expected, making it extremely difficult for us to play our normal game. They were strong upfront and tackled as if their lives depended on it,” explained Theron.
Theron admitted his harsh words during halftime had the desired effect on his players in the second half.
“We were much more composed and calm and that allowed us to eventually fight our way back successfully. I’m pleased with the effort and the character of the guys, but we now also know the areas where we must work on for the next match,” added Theron.
The two teams meet again next Saturday in Rosario.
ARGENTINA UNDER-20: Tries: Christian Bartolini, Jose Deheza, Emiliano Bofelli. Conversions: Bofelli (2); Penalty: Bofelli.
JUNIOR SPRINGBOKS: Tries: Michael Jaer, Grant Hermanus, Dan du Preez; Conversions: Ernst Stapelberg (2); Penalties: Stapelberg (2).