Junior Boks out to show their mettle at U20 World Championships
26 May 2019 - 00:04
The Junior Springboks have not had a U20 World Championship-winning team for seven years, and the 2019 crop will have to exceed expectations to break the drought over the coming month in Argentina.
But the nature of U20 rugby is that measuring a side's worth is difficult until they are thrown into the thick of a world championship campaign.
It is arguably the most demanding tournament in rugby because of its structure. Four days between matches that are as intense as anything in senior rugby makes it a physically and mentally challenging event in a cutthroat format.
For the Junior Boks, just getting to Rosario will be a challenge. The squad will be flying economy and they will go via Sao Paolo, with a long layover before connecting to Buenos Aires.
After Buenos Aires, they have a five-hour bus journey to Rosario. The entire trip will take over 40 hours door-to-door and they will only have two-and-a-half days to recover and prepare before their opening match against Scotland.
Which is why coach Chean Roux made their recent pre-tournament tour to the UK as tough as possible.
"It's going to be a tough mental challenge for the players because only about five of them have experience of jet-lag travelling east to west," Roux said.
"The recent UK tour was not about the results. We tried to make it as tough as possible for the players, to simulate what will happen in Argentina.
"We flew from Cape Town to Joburg and then to London. From Heathrow we took a four-hour bus journey to Birmingham and went straight onto the field.
"We trained the next morning and played England the following day in horrendous conditions. That experience will help the players."
Roux is aware that he is under pressure after two third places in the past two years at tournaments held in Georgia and France respectively.
Roux's team, to be captained by Sharks flank Phendulani Buthelezi, is unusual because it doesn't have a crop of junior starlets as in previous years.
Think of Jan Serfontein and Handré Pollard, or Salmaan Moerat, Juarno Augustus, Damian Willemse, RG Snyman or Wandisile Simelane.
Those players had been on everyone's lips from their school days before making their mark in the U20 environment.
This time around there are only four survivors from the team that finished third in France last year - Buthelezi being one of them.
"Of course our goal is to win the tournament," Roux said, "but my job is also about identifying players who will play Super Rugby and Test rugby in the future and bringing them through, with an eye on transformation.
"We are trying to breed a winning culture, and although we have not won the tournament since 2012, the Junior Boks have beaten the New Zealand U20s the last four times we have played them. The perception that we are weak and the reality are different."
The Junior Boks take on Scotland on June 4, followed by Georgia on June 8 and New Zealand on June 12.
There are three pools of four teams, with the top team in each pool advancing to the semifinals. The best ranking second-placed team across the four pools takes the fourth semifinal place...