Where are they now? The star-studded U20 World Championship-winning Junior Springboks that ended New Zealand’s dominance

Jared Wright
Junior World Championship 2012 Final - South Africa v New Zealand: Junior Springboks players Jan Serfontein, Wiaan Liebenberg and Handre Pollard at Newlands Stadium.

Junior World Championship 2012 Final - South Africa v New Zealand: Junior Springboks players Jan Serfontein, Wiaan Liebenberg and Handre Pollard at Newlands Stadium.

In 2012, South Africa ended New Zealand’s dominance of the U20 World Championship as the Junior Springboks claimed a famous 22-16 victory at Newlands Stadium.

Over 30,000 fans packed into the historic stadium in Cape Town to support the South Africa U20s side, which had reached the final of the competition for the first time.

Having won the first four editions of the competition, New Zealand were backed to make it five from five, but the tournament hosts ended their run of titles.

Twelve years on from that match and ahead of the inaugural U20 Rugby Championship, we take a look at where those stars from 2012 winning South Africans are now.

15 Dillyn Leyds

Like many of the 2012 U20 vintage, Dillyn Leyds has gone on to enjoy a successful playing career and after cementing his place in the Western Province and Stormers team, he made his Test debut for the Springboks. He came off the bench against France in 2017 and has since earned nine further Test caps before making the move to French club La Rochelle in 2019. He has enjoyed immense success at La Rochelle, helping the side win the Champions Cup for the first time in their history in 2022, and defended the title the following season, with Leyds playing a crucial role in both.

14 Raymond Rhule

The Ghanaian-born winger was a star for the Cheetahs in Super Rugby before making the switch to the Stormers in 2018. Like Leyds, he made his Test debut in 2017 and would rack up seven Test caps in total. He joined Grenoble in 2018 before linking up with Leyds at La Rochelle in 2020, where he, too, played a key role in winning back-to-back Champions Cup titles.

13 Kobus van Wyk

Kobus van Wyk played the final at centre but would play largely on the wing during his professional career and was somewhat of a journeyman.

His represented Western Province and the Stormers until 2016 before a short stint with Top 14 club Bordeaux Begles in 2016. Upon his return to South Africa, he joined the Sharks who he represented until 2019.

In 2020, he headed to New Zealand to play for the Hurricanes scoring six tries in eight Super Rugby matches and later that year he signed with Premiership outfit Leicester Tigers.

At the end of the 2021/22 season, he left Leicester and joined the Italian-side Zebre. His contract was not extended at Zebre at the end of the 2022/23 season, and he has yet to join another club.

12 Jan Serfontein

Jan Serfontein of Montpellier during Challenge Cup Final match between Leicester Tigers and Montpellier, at Twickenham Stadium on May 21 , 2021.

Jan Serfontein was a schoolboy prodigy in South Africa and 2012 saw him produce on his promise for the first time as he starred for the Junior Springboks during the tournament. His performance led to him being named the Junior Player of the Year and he would make his Test debut for the Springboks just one year later.

After earning his first Springboks cap at the age of 20, Serfontein has gone on to play 35 times for South Africa and represented his country at the 2015 World Cup. A move to France to join Montpellier in 2017 led to him falling out of favour with the Springboks, and he hasn’t added to his cap tally. However, he has racked up over 150 appearances for Montpellier winning the Challenge Cup and Top 14 with the club.

Where are they now? The U20 World Rugby Players of the Year

11 Tshotsho Mbovane

Another schoolboy sensation who enjoyed a rapid rise in the South African rugby ranks, things haven’t gone all so smoothly since then for Tshotsho Mbovane. The winger had represented South Africa at sevens level before being selected for the U20s squad and almost didn’t feature for the side after sustaining a knee injury and, while recovering from that, was stabbed. He did manage to recover in time for the tournament, playing a starring role in the competition, and was courted by South Africa Sevens and Western Province. After a change in coaching staff at the sevens in 2013, he was loaned out to Boland and the Leopards before being in the rugby wilderness for two years while battling with a knee injury and financially after becoming a father. In 2020, he joined the International Rugby Institute (IRI) in Pretoria as coach.

10 Handre Pollard

Handre Pollard celebrates Springboks' Rugby World Cup win.

Handre Pollard celebrates Springboks’ Rugby World Cup win.

Handre Pollard was tipped for high honours from an early age, representing Western Province throughout his youth age groups and playing for the South African Schoolboys. He was still at school when he was called into the U20s squad after missing the opening game and inspired the team to glory by playing a particularly massive role in the final, slotting four penalties and a drop-goal. That first trophy set the tone for the rest of his career as he would add a Varsity Cup title to his tally in 2013 and would play for the U20s until 2014. He would make his Test debut for the Springboks in 2014, just a week on from playing for the U20s.

Pollard has had his fair share of gutting injuries throughout his career but has become a pivotal player in the Springboks squad that won back-to-back Rugby World Cup titles and a British and Irish Lions series. He has also won a Top 14 title with Montpellier.

He is now close to becoming the Springboks all time leading points scorer having scored 698 points in 69 Test matches.

‘Best strike of my life’ – Springboks fly-half Handre Pollard on his clutch World Cup kick

9 Vian van der Watt

The scrum-half was one of South Africa’s try scorers in the final and went on to play for the Lions in Super Rugby and helped the side regain their status after being relegated from the tournament. He also had stints at the Leopards, EP and Boland Cavaliers before hanging up his boots in 2018 to move into finance. Since retiring from rugby, he has worked at Liberty Life Insurance Company as a financial advisor.

8 Fabian Booysen

After the tournament, Fabian Booysen would go onto represent the University of Johannesburg (UJ) in the Varsity Cup and played for the Lions in the Currie Cup and Super Rugby. He had a brief stint at the SWD Eagles before stepping away from rugby and now works as a sales manager at a logistics company.

7 Pieter-Steph du Toit

Pieter-Steph du Toit SA RWC Final 2023 - Alamy.jpg

Springbok flanker Pieter-Steph du Toit celebrates after the 2023 Rugby World Cup Final.

Another double Rugby World Cup-winning Springboks, Pieter-Steph du Toit, has become one of the best flankers in world rugby. The hard-working back-rower starred in both the 2019 and 2023 Rugby World Cup and was crowned World Player of the Year in 2019 producing one of the best World Cup final performances of all-time in the latter showpiece event. Du Toit’s success is even more impressive considering his career-threatening injuries, one of which resulted in him getting one of his father’s tendons transplanted into his leg. Having started his club career at the Sharks, du Toit would later join the Stormers before signing with Japanese club Toyota Verblitz.

Ireland legend hails Springboks’ medical miracle as the ‘best in the world’

6 Wiaan Liebenberg (c)

The 2012 tournament-winning captain was tipped for a bright future but struggled to force his way up the pecking order at the Bulls and was limited to Currie Cup outings for the Pretoria-based side. While he also enjoyed success with Tuks in the Varsity Cup, he eventually made the move to France, joining Jake White’s Montpellier side. He would play over 50 times for the French side before a brief stint at Beziers. In 2018, he signed with La Rochelle, where he quickly became a key player for the side, and after winning the Champions Cup with the side in 2022, he announced his retirement. Upon retirement, he planned to remain in France and pursue a career in wealth management.

5 Ruan Botha

The second-rower would play a handful of games for the Lions after the tournament before making the move to Western Province and the Stormers. In 2016, he signed for the Sharks and would remain with the Durban-based side until 2019, when he signed for Premiership side London Irish. He would spend just one season with the Exiles before packing his bags to join Japanese club Kubota Spears who he continues to represent and helped win a maiden Japan Rugby League One title.

4 Paul Willemse

Paul Willemse of France greets his supporters at the end of the 2023 Six Nations, rugby union match between Italy and France on February 5, 2023 at Stadio Olimpico in Rome, Italy -

Paul Willemse of France greets his supporters.

After a standout performance for South Africa U20s during the tournament, Paul Willemse was recruited to join the Bulls from the Lions. While he was a regular for the Bulls during his time, he was not in the frame for the Springboks and opted to join Jake White’s Montpellier side. He has since qualified to play international rugby for France and made his Test debut in 2019. He represented Les Bleus at the Rugby World Cup and won a Six Nations Grand Slam with side in 2022.

3 Maks van Dyk

The tighthead prop has gone on to represent several clubs since the u20 World Championship, playing for the Sharks, Cheetahs, Griquas and Leinster.

His most successful stints were in France winning the Top 14 with Toulouse who he played over 60 times for while he also had short stints with Harelquins, Worcester Warriors and Exeter Chiefs before returning to France with Pau.

He left Pau at the end of the 2022/23 season to join Major Rugby League side the Houston SaberCats.

2 Mark Pretorius

The hooker played youth levels with the Lions while also representing UJ in the Varsity Cup. He would also have a stint with SWD Eagles and Pumas before bringing his playing career to an end to run an abattoir in White River.

1 Steven Kitshoff

Springboks front-row Steven Kitshoff.

Springboks front-row Steven Kitshoff.

The last of the double Rugby World Cup-winning Springboks, Steven Kitshoff will be remembered as one of the greatest South African props in Bok history. He was a crucial member of the famed Bomb Squad in 2019 and is one of the most capped Stormers players in the club’s history. He has had stints away from South Africa with Bordeaux and Ulster but will rejoin the Stormers ahead of the 2024/25 season. While he continues his playing career, the loosehead prop has also started his own beer company with fellow Springboks’ forward Malcolm Marx.

Replacements

16 Franco Marais

Since winning the tournament with the Junior Springboks, Marais has become a fine club player, having played for the Sharks before linking up with Gloucester in 2018. He left the Cherry and Whites in 2020, signing with the Japanese club the Red Hurricanes, now the Urayasu D-Rocks who he continues to represent.

17 Allan Dell

Loosehead prop Allan Dell headed to Scotland after the U20 World Championship joining Edinburgh. The front-rower qualified for Scotland through his grandmother and made his debut for the side in 2016. He had a stint in the Premiership with London Irish between 2019 and 2022 before returning to Scotland with the Glasgow Warriors who he still plays for.

18 Oli Kebble

After playing the 2013 Varsity Cup for Ikey Tigers, he would cement his place in the Stormers and Western Province squads until he signed for Glasgow Warriors in 2017. Oli Kebble made his Test debut for Scotland, who he qualified for through residency, in 2020. He continues to be a key cog of the Glasgow Warriors scrum.

19 Braam Steyn

Another player who would go on to represent another nation following the U20 World Championship. Braam Steyn left South African shores to join Mogliano in 2012 and would also play for Italian sides Calvisano, Zebre and Benetton. He debuted for Italy, having qualified through residency in 2016, and would play 50 times for the Azzurri before announcing his retirement in 2023.

20 Shaun Adendorff

Another journeyman, Shaun Adendorff has played for the Bulls, Boland Cavaliers, Aurillac, Northampton Saints, USON Nevers Rugby and US Carcassonne. The talented flanker struggled with injuries throughout his career, particularly early on, but is still turning out for Carcassonne in France.

21 Abrie Griesel

The replacement scrum-half in the final would have stints at the Cheetahs, Griquas, Munster and Pumas before hanging up his boots.

22 Tony Jantjies

The younger brother of World Cup-winning Springbok fly-half Elton Jantjies, Tony would play for the Bulls and EP Kings during his career in South Africa before taking his talents to Spain recently playing for Alcobendas.

23 Travis Ismaiel

Travis Ismaiel did go on to represent the Springboks, making his Test debut in 2018 against Wales. The lively winger enjoyed a stint with the Bulls between 2012 and 2019 before signing for Premiership club Harlequins. His stint at Quins came to an end when he was forced to retire due to a shoulder injury, but surprisingly, he returned to action in 2023 when he linked up with the South African Sevens team.

READ MORE: All set for ‘rising stars’ to collide in inaugural U20 Rugby Championship