For SA U20 captain Paul de Villiers, the match is not only about winning the bronze medal but also for his troops to deliver a performance they can all reflect on in years to come.
“We really want to beat England and finish on a high note – that will leave some sort of legacy for us as a team,” said De Villiers after he took the team through their last training session and traditional captain’s practice.
“We are still going out there to represent our country and people are still paying money to come and see us play, so we cannot disappoint them. We had our ups and downs in the tournament, but if we deliver a good performance on Friday, that is what people will remember. So yes, we are going into this game with the win on our minds.
“There are some mixed emotions now, this being the last time we have trained together and me in charge of the so-called captain's run, but emotions are not going to take us anywhere tomorrow. We will have to be focussed on what England will bring to us and how we are going to cope with that.”
England have won the most tackle turnovers (18) – more than twice as many as South Africa (7) – and they the only team to have made in excess of 500 passes (520), but they have also conceded 11.5 penalties on average per match and have had four players sent to the sin-bin.
De Villiers was on the field in June 2022 when South Africa defeated England 30-22 in the Six Nations U20 Summer Series in Italy, but tournament history is not in the home side’s favour as England won the last five encounters before that.
No team has played in more third-place playoffs than South Africa (nine) and this is the sixth tournament in a row that they have contested the bronze final. They have won eight and lost once only in those playoffs, with their only defeat at this stage of the tournament coming against Argentina (49-19) in England in 2016.
De Villiers, in his ninth and last appearance for the Junior Boks, said stats will not deter them in their quest to win the match. South Africa’s tackle success rate is the second best in the tournament at 88.7% and they have the fastest average ruck speed in attack (2.90 seconds), but the Junior Bok captain also points to effort.
“At the beginning of the tournament there was room for speculation about the potential of the group and what we potentially could achieve,” he said.
“There is no room for that anymore, time for talking is done and we have one more opportunity to speak through our actions and effort on the field. That is all that really matters.
“The team have shown their fight so far and we did play some really good rugby at times. Sadly also, we had poor moments as well and tomorrow will be about delivering a performance that will be worthy for the Junior Springboks and what it represents. For that we must pitch up tomorrow and stay in the game until the very last minute.”
Played 11, England won 8, South Africa 3
Average score: England 27-23
England have won the last five U20 Championship encounters, but South Africa came out on top the last time they met, 30-22 at the U20 Summer Series in Verona, Italy, in June 2022.
Match information: Junior Springboks v England U20
Date: Friday, 14 July 2023
Venue: Athlone Stadium, Cape Town
Referee: Reuben Keane (Australia)
Assistant Referees: Takehito Namekawa (Japan), Griffin Colby (South Africa)
TMO: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)
TV: SuperSport 211