Cape Town – SA Rugby’s High Performance manager and Junior Springbok assistant coach Louis Koen says the team is keen to take a step forward in the World Rugby U20 Championship when they meet hosts, France, in their final pool match in Narbonne on Thursday.
The SA U20s are currently leading the standings in Pool C with 10 points following bonus-point victories against Georgia and Ireland, while France are in second place with nine points. Thursday’s match will serve as the decider to determine which team is guaranteed a place in the semi-finals.
The top team in each pool and the next best-placed team in the tournament at the conclusion of the pool stages will advance to the semi-finals.
“The players have been focusing on rest and recovery in the last two days, so the work begins again late this afternoon to prepare for the match against France – we’re all excited and keen for the challenge,” said Koen.
“They have been in this situation before, as we tried to replicate this tournament on our UK tour by playing three tough games in a very short space of time. So the players are well prepared, they are in the right frame of mind and are really excited to go out there and do the job.”
With the French playing in front of a passionate home crowd on Thursday, Koen said: “The fact that France are playing at home could be a positive or negative for them. They could either draw energy from their supporters in a full stadium, or it could place pressure on them.
“But our focus is on what we would like to achieve in the game. There are things we need to improve on and be better at, so we are focussing on the processes and plans that we would like to put in place, and we will approach things from whistle to whistle.”
Koen is satisfied that the Junior Springboks are on the right track in the competition after a solid second-half showing against Ireland: “The players have gained confidence from the fact that they can see the hard work they put in for the last five months in Stellenbosch is coming through in the last 20 to 30 minutes.
“We spoke a lot about how Test rugby works in the last two years, and sometimes you have to build an innings to get the results in the closing stages of a match. So the players are excited and they are looking forward to another opportunity to represent their country and to take a step forward in the competition.”
Meanwhile, No 8 Phendulani Buthelezi and flyhalf David Coetzer joined their team-mates in Gruissan on Tuesday, after being called up as injury replacements for Damian Willemse (knee) and Muller du Plessis (gluteal muscle) respectively.
Junior Springbok coach Chean Roux will announce his team to face France on Wednesday.