Arguably the junior circuit's most physical teams go head-to-head in Auckland on Friday as England look to retain their crown.
Arguably the junior circuit's most physical teams go head-to-head in Auckland on Friday as England look to retain their crown against South Africa.
The showpiece of this year's Junior World Championship has been touted as a battle of bulk. South Africa, who produce a set of U20 players so gargantuan and muscle-bound that few would look out of place in full Test rugby take on England, perhaps the only age-group side capable of matching their physicality.
It is a somewhat unfair label given that each team boasts more than its fair share of brain amid such an abundance of brawn, but it is here, says Baby Boks second-row Abongile Nonkontwana, that the title will be won or lost.
“I think England are going to provide the typical forward battle,” Nonkontwana told iafrica.
“We know that their driving is pretty good in the mauling and also their scrum is good.
“They have got lots of penalties and tries from their set phases so our forwards will be focusing on destroying them and dominating them with our own forward play.
“It is all going to start with the forwards, I must say.”
England boss Nick Walshe certainly expects a high-octane, physical duel; the finalists have won the title once each in the past two years, England are the defending champions, while South Africa claimed victory in 2012.
“I think it will be a good game, it is going to be very tough and this game is going to be not far off senior Test match level because these guys are as big as senior Test players and it is quite frightening how big both these sets of boys are,” admitted Walshe.
“We have got to perform well, there is no point even thinking about winning the game, we have got to get our performance right against an extremely strong and powerful South Africa. We know what is coming, we are going to match it and try and do well.
“Without a doubt they will be the most physical team we have played. But they are not just a physical side, with Handre Pollard at ten they can play a wide game and they have got some good outside backs. We know they have got good forwards, they are just going to provide us with a stiffer test probably than what we have faced.
The two sides have reached the final unbeaten, with both overpowering their last-four opposition, New Zealand and Ireland, respectively. The young South Africans beat the much-vaunted Baby Blacks on home turf for the second time in the tournament, with a late comeback securing their title shot.
The nature of the win proved, says captain Pollard, the Bulls pivot grabbing all the headlines, that his team possess the self-belief required to achieve great things.
“The whole tournament we have been down a bit first half and we have come to grow into the belief that even though there is two minutes on the clock we can win this game,” said Pollard.
“That is something I love about our side.
“It is something you don't coach, it is just something that comes with the team and with the character of a side. For us it is a big bonus, a big positive that we can keep believing, it doesn't matter what the score is until the last minute.
“I think at the end of the day it is going to be the side that wants it the most that is going to win it.”
It is only New Zealand who have successfully defended their JWC crown, and 2013 winner Callum Braley stresses the importance of precision and set-piece accuracy to quell the bruising Boks.
“They have played New Zealand twice and beaten them twice so they have proved their worth without a shadow of a doubt. They will be a physical side and it will be a good match for us to test ourselves against the most physical team in the world,” said Braley.
“I think set piece will be key, they have a good set-piece, especially the driving lineout, but then so have we, we have a good set-piece, a good scrum. Whichever teams gets the best platform because both teams have got dangerous backs, so it will be an interesting battle for sure.
“It is going to take the full 80 minutes and more on Friday evening.”
England U20: 15 Aaron Morris, 14 Howard Packman, 13 Nick Tompkins, 12 Harry Sloan, 11 Nathan Earle, 10 Billy Burns, 9 Henry Taylor, 8 James Chisolm, 7 Gus Jones, 6 Ross Moriarty, 5 Charlie Ewels, 4 Maro Itoje (c), 3 Paul Hill, 2 Tom Woolstencroft, 1 Danny Hobbs-Awoyemi
Replacements: 16 Jack Walker, 17 Alex Lundberg, 18 Biyi Alo, 19 Hayden Thompson-Stringer, 20 Joel Conlon, 21 Calum Braley, 22 Sam Olver, 23 Henry Purdy
South Africa U20: 15 Warrick Grant, 14 Dan Kriel, Jesse Kriel, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Sergeal Petersen, 10 Handre Pollard (c), 9 JP Smith, 8 Aidon Davis, 7 Cyle Brink, 6 Jacques Vermeulen, 5 Nico Janse van Rensburg, 4 JD Schickerling, 3 Dayan van der Westhuizen, 2 Corniel Els, 1 Thomas du Toit
Replacements: 16 Joseph Dweba, 17 Pierre Schoeman, 18 Wilco Louw, 19 Victor Sekekete, 20 Jean Luc du Preez, 21 Zee Mkhabela, 22 Jean Luc du Plessis, 23 Duhan van der Merwe
Date: Friday 20th June
Venue: Eden Park
Kick-off: 1935 local, 0835 BST
Referee: Ben O'Keeffe (NZ)
Assistant referees: Matt O'Brien (Aus), Joaquin Montes (Uru)
TMO: Vinny Munro (NZ)