The Academy squad players are currently hard at work, laying the groundwork for the Junior Boks’ forthcoming international season, with the clash against the senior side from Johannesburg at Emirates Airline Park another important building block in their season campaign.

This midday clash on the Highveld marked their second training match against a senior provincial side within a week, following last Saturday’s outing against DHL Western Province in the Strand, near Cape Town.

Speaking after the friendly clash in Johannesburg, Nhleko explained the two matches against the provincial sides have provided the players with much needed game time and mental preparation.

“The biggest thing for us today was tempo, physicality, and skillset under pressure – something we’ve been hammering on with the players, but they need to experience it because that’s the only way we can grow and be tested,” said Nhleko, who added that the coaching staff also have another aim in mind with these training excursions.

“We’ve been very deliberate in what we wanted from these games – we wanted to play against strong provincial sides that preferably are as close as possible to Vodacom URC level, because the reality is that once you play U20 internationals, it’s faster in terms of tactical awareness, the speed of play and decision-making.

“One of the challenges (for us) in South Africa is that our boys don’t get enough of that, and that’s why we are so grateful to the provinces for providing us with quality opposition.”

The group of talented young players have been together intermittently since the beginning of the year where they got used to the conditions in Stellenbosch, making the game at altitude in Gauteng an interesting challenge.

“Playing up at altitude in the heat presented us with a different challenge and mental test, especially if you compare the conditions down in Stellenbosch,” explained Nhleko.

“So, although you’re not getting the rain and wind to help you prepare for the World Rugby U20 Championship (which will be staged during the normally wet winter months in Cape Town), these highveld conditions require a different mentality.

“I am very happy for the group and how they’re progressing, considering that this time last year we’ve not even got together as a group. So just the fact that we can test the boys against this calibre (of opponents) are very good for us.”

Looking ahead, the Academy squad are gearing up for another hit out next week, when they are set to take on the Sanlam Boland Kavaliers in Wellington. This late afternoon fixture will provide yet another essential opportunity for the coaching staff to assess the players’ progress as they continue with their build-up for the busy international season.

The Academy group is the frontrunner for the Junior Boks, with almost all of the national Under-20 team picked from the ranks of this training group.

In May, the Junior Boks will participate in the inaugural U20 Rugby Championship hosted by Sanzaar in the Australian coastal city of Brisbane, where they will face Argentina, Australia and New Zealand in what will be an historic and much anticipated competition between the southern hemisphere quartet.

Following the Brisbane event, the squad will then reassemble one more time for the last camp block before the start of the World Rugby U20 Championship across three venues in the Western Cape, namely Athlone Stadium, the Danie Craven Stadium and the DHL Stadium, where the final will be staged.

Photo credit: Seyms Brugger Sport (supplied by the Lions Rugby Co.)