Rugby: NZ need to beat Boks bogey after pool defeat

By Campbell Burnes

James Tucker tries to smash through South Africa's defence in the pool game loss last week. Photo / Greg Bowker
James Tucker tries to smash through South Africa's defence in the pool game loss last week. Photo / Greg Bowker

They're locking horns again.

Tomorrow night New Zealand and South Africa meet in the Junior World Championship semifinal, just nine days after the Junior Boks cleaned out the hosts with a clinical 33-24 win in pool play.

South Africa now have three JWC wins in a row against the New Zealand Under 20s, but they are acutely aware this will count for little come kick-off.

South African coach Dawie Theron laughed when asked if his charges were happy to assume the favourites' tag after being top qualifiers.

"It's still in New Zealand against New Zealand. We know how much is riding on it for them. We were in a similar situation when the tournament was in South Africa," he said. "This is a massive test again. We shift our minds to a two-test series. It's unfortunate we can't meet in different circumstances (that is, the final) but that's the way it is.

"I suppose the tournament directors are happy there will be a north-south final."

Theron's injury problems were abating, though there was no word on the health of fullback Jesse Kriel, who copped a knock at the end of the first half in the bruising 21-8 victory over Samoa.

Other than Simon Hickey's exit with an ankle injury, New Zealand have a full complement from which to choose, though lock James Tucker sat out yesterday's training as a precaution.

Assistant coach Leon MacDonald says there will be some adjustment tactically from the previous clash, but he is generally happy with the attacking output of what is a potentially exciting back division.

"They all love running the ball, but it's about getting that decision-making right. Still, we have to play rugby against this big side," he said.

Richie Mo'unga knows the structures inside out as he has guided the team at No 10 when Simon Hickey was absent, and TJ Faiane has earned his right to start at second five. One would think the South Africans will not be kicking to left wing Tevita Li, who has scored four tries in the tournament, unless it is a box or bomb kick.

The referee will be Federico Anselmi of Argentina, and both teams would be happy enough under a dry sky and a fast track.

There has never been a successful dropped goal in a JWC semifinal. What price a judicious pot to seal victory in either or both of these semis?

Tickets are again attractively priced, with children under 14 admitted for free.

Australia will open proceedings in Albany at 2.35pm, kicking themselves for not securing another bonus point in their loss to England, which would have granted them entry to the top four. They face Samoa, who have impressed many pundits at stages of all three of their pool matches with their committed and cohesive work.

If Ireland win their first-ever JWC semi against England, it would rank as a monumental upset. But if England get it all together, and indeed they needed just four more points against Argentina to have finished top qualifier, they should be too powerful and slick and will thus be able to defend their trophy in the final at Eden Park next Friday.

Pukekohe will host another three playoffs for the minor placings.

- NZ Herald

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