The SA U20's delivered a much-improved performance in their final pool match, but came up short against England, going down by 17-12 in cold, wet and windy conditions in Cape Town at the Athlone Stadium on Tuesday night.

South Africa had to win with a try-scoring bonus-point and a points' difference of at least 13 to progress to the semi-finals. Although they gave it their all, England scored the winning try five minutes after the hooter, consigning the Junior Boks to a fifth-place playoff against Argentina at 14h00 on Sunday in Cape Town.

England will take on Ireland (16h30), while New Zealand are up against France (19h00) in the semi-finals, also on Sunday at the DHL Stadium.

Speaking to media afterwards, Nhleko said they were hurting from the outcome of a match they had to win to be in contention for a place in the last four. Although the result was painful, the Junior Bok coach commended his team for the way they responded from their previous performance against Argentina, and for taking the game to the English side.

“It hurts and we are feeling it, especially conceding after the hooter, but I thought the effort was great,” said Nhleko.

“We had our backs against the wall coming into this game and the boys got stuck in.

“Both teams showed a willingness to play, and I thought we put ourselves in good positions, however, we didn't get the reward and some of that was perhaps, us being a bit too desperate at times. Those are the small margins that go for or against you.”

Furthermore, the Junior Boks coped well with the difficult conditions. They scrummed well and created opportunities, but handling errors and resolute English defence meant they could not add to their two tries, with England clinching the game with the winning try long after the sound of the final hooter.

Nhleko said: “We are not making excuses; the desire to win was there, and (it was) not because of a lack of trying.”

The SA U20's will now reset as they prepare for their final two matches, starting with a tricky encounter against Argentina in Cape Town on Sunday.

“Although we didn't succeed in our mission, we still have two matches remaining and those games will give us the opportunity to end as high as we can,” said Nhleko.

“We will continue giving guys an opportunity as part of the pathway process and their long-term development.”

The Junior Boks will complete their recovery protocols on Wednesday and resume on-field training on Thursday.