The SA U20 side got past a tenacious England on Sunday evening to register their second victory at the IRB JWC, putting them in pole position on the log.
The Baby Boks, who are the defending champions, consolidated their place at the top of the log in Pool A (9 points) and now have one more group match to negotiate before the play-offs. They play tournament hosts France, who lost to England, but crushed the USA, on Thursday.
South Africa raced into a 21-0 lead after an impressive start and will perhaps feel disappointed that they did not manage to finish in a more commanding fashion. Flying wing Seabelo Senatla, scorer of four tries against the USA last week, was denied another hat trick of tries after his third effort was disallowed for an earlier infringement.
A fourth try and the accompanying bonus point would have confirmed South Africa’s place in the semi-finals with a match to spare.
They got off to a flyer, pinning England in their own half with some clever positional kicks and crunching tackles. Senatla scored two tries, one out wide after a good backline movement and another with a clever interception, while flyhalf Robert du Preez slotted a conversion and two penalties to keep the pressure in England.
The English however started to get into the match towards the end of the first half and had a try disallowed after a knock-on in the build-up. They were however rewarded for their persistence when centre Sam Hill crossed the line after a good offload from flyhalf Henry Slade.
Slade slotted the conversion to make the score 21-7 at halftime. A few minutes after the restart England scored again when lock Elliot Stooke dotted down in the corner and Slade converted from a difficult angle to reduce the score to 21-14.
But the Baby Boks struck back when imposing flanker Jacques du Plessis crashed over in the corner for the team’s third try, while pivot Du Preez added a conversion and a penalty to keep England at bay.
England bounced back with a few forward surges and they were rewarded when Stooke and prop Henry Purdy crashed over for tries in the corner. Slade kept his side within striking distance with his accurate kicking, adding two conversions and a penalty.
Baby Bok lock Irne Herbst and England flank Tom Price were both yellow carded towards the end of the game after a scuffle.
Coach Dawie Theron was understandably disappointed that his team could not secure a valuable bonus point.
“We made a very good start but did not manage capitalise on it. This was a very good win against an English team that have won the Under-20 Six Nations and have played much longer together as a team.
“I am disappointed that we did not keep our discipline in the second half, but there were also some decisions made which were out of our control and influenced the play in the second half. We will now regroup and prepare for our next match against France, who will no doubt be a difficult customer in front of their home fans,” said Theron.
South Africa (21) 31: Tries: Seabelo Senatla (2), Jacques du Plessis. Conversions: Robert du Preez (2). Penalties: Du Preez (4)
England (7) 24: Tries: Sam Hill, Elliott Stooke, Hendry Purdy. Conversions: Henry Slade (3), Penalty: Slade
Other results from Sunday the 9th of June:
New Zealand 14 – 10 Australia
Ireland 46 – 3 Fiji
France 45 – 3 USA
Wales 26 – 21 Scotland
Argentina 28 – 16 Samoa