Junior Boks end Baby Blacks' rein
June 22, 2012
South Africa celebrate winning the IRB Junior World Championship for the first time
© Getty Images
South Africa clinched a first-ever IRB Junior World Championship title with a 22-16 victory over New Zealand at Newlands on Friday night.
Second half tries from scrum-half Vian van der Watt and outstanding centre Jan Serfontein carried the tournament hosts to a deserved victory but it was the Junior Boks' superior physicality that finally loosened the Baby Blacks' four-year grip on the U20s crown.
A record crowd of 33,210 were treated to a thrilling contest that saw New Zealand take a narrow half-time lead thanks largely to a try from Milford Keresoma. The occasion was soured after the break with red cards for South Africa's Paul Willemse and New Zealand's Ofa Tu'ungafasi after a minor spat but it failed to rock the Boks with 18-year-old fly-half Handre Pollard steering his side home.
Both sides had endured a rocky road to the title-decider with South Africa having been edged out by Ireland in the pool stages and New Zealand suffering their first-ever defeat in the competition at the hands of Wales. However, there was little doubt that the final pitched to the two best teams in the world against each other.
They were separated by just a point after an intense first half that saw three Pollard penalties cancelled out by Keresoma and a penalty and a conversion from New Zealand playmaker Ihaia West.
Both sides created scoring opportunities before Van der Watt beat his opposite number Bryn Hall to a crucial touch down in the early stages of the second half. A powerful scrum laid the foundation for the score and the lively South African No.9 toe-ended the loose ball over the New Zealand line before reacting quickest to claim the score that had to be confirmed by the Television Match Official.
West kept his side in touch with another penalty before tempers flared. English referee Greg Garner spotted lock Willemse pulling at Tu'ungafasi's hair during a driving maul and also the punch thrown by the latter in retaliation. Both players were dismissed as a result but it robbed South Africa of little momentum.
Pollard slotted a superb drop goal to extend his side's lead before Serfontein, who was later named the IRB Junior Player of the Year, capped a superb tournament with a well-taken try.
New Zealand fought bravely to keep their title hopes alive but a West penalty proved too little, too late. The final whistle sparked wild celebrations from the South Africans as they became the first to win a world rugby title on home soil since the Springboks triumphed at the 1995 Rugby World Cup.
Elsewhere on finals day, Wales claimed a best-ever third place finish with a 25-17 victory over Argentina while Italy were relegated to the IRB Junior World Trophy following a 19-17 defeat to Fiji.
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