Cape Town – Their title defence may have gone up in smoke,
but South Africa still have an opportunity to end their 2013 IRB Junior World
Championship campaign with a flourish in France.
The Baby Boks encounter arch-rivals New Zealand in the
playoff game for third place in Vannes on Sunday, the first time these foes lock
horns since the memorable 2012 Newlands final, and both sides ought to be up
for the scrap despite the mutual disappointment of the game being a
curtain-raiser to the all-northern hemisphere showpiece featuring England and
South Africa were agonisingly pipped 18-17 at the death in
their semi-final against the Welsh on Tuesday after a tense, intriguing match
which really could have gone either way.
Some glass-half-full characters were suggesting immediately
afterwards that the outcome spared the Baby Boks “a drubbing from New Zealand
in the final”.
But instead England went on to deservedly upset the Baby
Blacks by 12 points in the later semi, setting up a consolation fixture between
the two southern powerhouse nations.
What that result confirmed was that, whatever their
shortcomings this year, Dawie Theron’s charges have been no mugs at the 2013
get-together – keep in mind that they beat the very same England outfit 31-24 in
a character-filled display during pool combat on June 9.
So the young South Africans can return with heads held particularly
high if they manage to see off the New Zealanders on Sunday for third place.
There is no point in whingeing, and to their credit the Baby
Boks didn’t, but they might well have been contesting a second successive final
instead, had the place-kicking of otherwise competent utility inside back Handre
Pollard – a bit of a problem throughout the tournament – been more consistent,
and also if there had been a referral “upstairs” for the controversial first
Still, the game did seem to bear out this writer’s
suspicion, from much earlier in the 2013 version, that the SA forwards lack the
set-piece power and precision of their title-winning predecessors a year
Failure to bank reliable, front-foot possession from the
primary phases also meant that the Baby Boks were not able to involve their
speedy, slick-stepping and always crowd-pleasing back three as often as they
would have wished.
A comfort for someone like Cheslin Kolbe, probably the
individual SA player at the event to most grab global admiration over the last
fortnight or so, is that while he can longer have a winners’ medal placed
around his neck, there is still the chance to put one over the Baby Blacks ... and
then move on to his exciting participation in the Sevens World Cup in Moscow
later this month (June28-30).
The Kraaifontein-born fullback, 19, shows unmistakable
traces of a “Christian Cullen” in his pure dynamism and elusiveness as a
counter-attacker, while in spite of his relatively lean – though fast-growing
now – physique, he lacks nothing in bravery or ability to mix it physically
There is a nice coincidence in the fact that he will grace a
Sevens World Cup (this tournament comes around every four years) at roughly the
same period in life when later-to-be All Black legend Cullen played a
particularly iconic one in Hong Kong, aged 20, in 1997.
It was a fabulous tournament, in the year the territory was
handed over from British to Chinese rule, eventually won by Fiji as they saw
off South Africa 24-21 in a classic final – although Cullen’s was routinely the
name on everyone’s lips as an “oohs and aahs” factor up to New Zealand’s semis
elimination by the Boks.
The Fijians were led by the incomparable Waisale Serevi, and
the SA team contained such names as Joost van der Westhuizen, who already
boasted a full World Cup winning medal, Bob Skinstad, Breyton Paulse, Andre
Venter and Pieter Rossouw.
So in many ways that tournament was a launch-pad for
glittering top-flight fifteens careers of several South Africans.
It is not at all out of the question that the electric Kolbe
will use the Russian jamboree as a similar platform.
Kolbe sat on the Stormers bench once, against the Sharks at
Newlands earlier this season, when the franchise were bedevilled by injuries,
although he did not get on the park.
Much more certain, I believe, is that he will play some
maiden Currie Cup rugby this year and then feature much more prominently in
Stormers 2014 plans after turning 20 in October ...
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