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SA's 2012 World Junior champs: Where are they now?

SPOTLIGHT: When South Africa kicks off their latest Junior World Championship campaign at home to Georgia in Stellenbosch on June 24, it will be two days after the 11th anniversary of their 22-16 win over New Zealand in the 2012 Final Cape Town.

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That was the last time the tournament was held in the Republic.

A crowd of 33,210 turned up at Newlands to see an age-grade South African side inspired by a then 18-year-old Handre Pollard end the four-year grip that the New Zealanders had on the title.

There were tries from scrumhalf Vian van der Watt and centre Jan Serfontein to go with the dozen points kicked by their flyhalf, who was one of three starting players that seven years later would help the Springboks to win the senior World Cup in Japan.

Four more of the class of 2012 were capped at different times by the Springboks, while three other players have enjoyed Test careers with rival countries – including namely Paul Willemse with France.

The lock was red-carded for the Junior Boks in the Final, along with Baby Black loosehead Ofa Tu’ungafasi after hair tugging was met with a retaliatory punch.

Here is what became of South Africa’s 2012 matchday 23:

2012 Junior Boks World Championship win
South Africa celebrate with the trophy in 2012 (Photo by Ron Gaunt/AFP/GettyImages)

15. Dillyn Leyds
The fullback moved to Australia to make his Super Rugby breakthrough, playing for Western Force, before a 2016 switch to the Stormers led to 10 Springboks caps. Moved to France four years later where he is now a double Champions Cup winner with La Rochelle.

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14. Raymond Rhule
Incredible to think the winger is all these years later plying his trade alongside full-back Leyds in the back-to-back cup-winning La Rochelle team. The Cheetahs was his route into the pro ranks, numerous Super Rugby campaigns and a Pro14 season with them getting followed by a year at the Stormers. Seven Springboks caps were gained in 2017, before he headed to France where two years at Grenoble led to his 2020 switch to La Rochelle.

13. Kobus van Wyk
It was 2014 at the Stormers when the midfielder made his Super Rugby breakthrough, going on to also play for the Sharks in that tournament. Away from South Africa, he has been employed in New Zealand (Hurricanes), France (Bordeaux), England (Leicester) and now in Italy (Zebre).

12. Jan Serfontein
Having made the Bulls Super Rugby team in 2013, he embarked on a 35-cap Test career with the Springboks that included playing off the bench at the 2015 World Cup. It was 2017 when he finished up in Pretoria, moving to Montpellier where he has just ended his sixth season. Was a Top 14 champion in 2022.

11. Tshotsho Mbovane
Already had a BlitzBok cap when making this Junior Boks team despite getting stabbed some months before the tournament. He returned to Sevens after the title success, but his career was upset by the resignation of coach Paul Treu. Some Currie Cup action did materialise, but it didn’t work out in XV-a-side game and, without a contract, he played grassroots before switching to Sevens coaching at the International Rugby Institute in Pretoria. Set up a foundation in Langa in 2021 to create opportunities for township youngsters.

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10. Handre Pollard
One of the three age-grade champions who won the World Cup with the Springboks in 2019. Five Super Rugby years at the Bulls – which also had a Top League pitstop in Osaka in 2015 – were followed by a post-Japan 2019 switch to Montpellier, with whom he won the title in 2022 along with Serfontein. Now in England with Leicester, he is poised to add to his 65 Test caps and be a key part of the Springboks at his third World Cup.

9. Vian van der Watt
While Pollard has enjoyed a golden career, his age-grade half-back wasn’t as fortunate. On exiting the Vodacom Cup Lions, he played Currie Cup at the Leopards, Eastern Province and Boland before calling time on his career in 2018. Now works as an insurance company financial advisor in Johannesburg.

(Article continues below the state of the Bok-nation address by Jacques Nienaber and Rassie Erasmus …)

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1. Steven Kitshoff
Skipper in the Stormers’ URC Final loss to Munster last weekend, the 71-cap Springboks loosehead, who came off the bench in the 2019 World Cup Final, is off to Ulster after the upcoming World Cup in France. The prop had already made a Super Rugby breakthrough at the Stormers before his 2011 international age-grade success and bar two seasons at Bordeaux, his entire club career has been spent in Cape Town.

2. Mark Pretorius
Another from the Golden Lions stable whose career never really took off. He made two Super Rugby appearances off the bench but was last noted playing Currie Cup for the Pumas in 2017/18.

3. Nicolaas van Dyk
Affectionately known by his nickname, Maks, he enjoyed a Super Rugby emergence at the 2014 Cheetahs, igniting a transient career where he has been at Griquas, Leinster, Toulouse, Harlequins, Worcester and for the last three seasons Pau. Has made only limited starts during his European adventure but has become the epitome of a squad player in carving out a lengthy career.

4. Paul Willemse
The one who got away on the Springboks. Made a Super Rugby debut at the Lions in 2012 before becoming a Bulls regular. Some 2014/15 Top 14 action with Grenoble resulted in a move to Montpellier where he has just finished his eighth season, winning the title in 2022 the same year he started in all five games for Fabien Galthie’s Grand Slam-winning France. Debuted at Test level in February 2019 and is now an integral pack member with 28 caps.

5. Ruan Botha
Had played Super Rugby with the Lions before winning this age-grade World Cup. Further campaigns followed at the Sharks and Stormers before he headed to Japan where his five seasons at the Spears culminated last month in a first league title. Also had a six-month pre-pandemic pitstop at London Irish.

6. Wian Liebenberg
Another Bulls regular who decided to try his luck in France with Montpellier. There was also a brief stint at Grenoble, but it was at La Rochelle where he properly thrived, retiring last year before his 30th birthday as a Champions Cup winner.

7. Pieter-Steph du Toit
The third member of the age-grade world champion XV that went on to star in the Springboks’ 2019 World Cup win. He is now poised to add his 66 caps in the coming months as he is still a regular under Jacques Nienaber. Club-wise, he had multiple Super Rugby campaigns with the Sharks and Stormers but has spent the last two seasons in Japan with Toyota Verblitz.

8. Fabian Booysen
There were two Super Rugby appearances with the Lions in 2016 after a Currie Cup title the previous year, but that was the height of his career post his age-grade success with South Africa. Now works as a new business sales manager in Jo’burg for an international courier.

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Replacements:

16. Franco Marais
The replacement hooker learned his trade at the Sharks before switching to Johan Ackermann’s Gloucester in 2018/19. Has two seasons in England before relocating to Japan where he played for Oaska and now Urayasu.

17. Allan Dell
The second of the three South Africans who played Test level with a different country. It was 2014 when the loosehead joined Edinburgh from the Currie Cup ranks at the Sharks, playing five seasons before spending three more at London Irish. Played for Glasgow in 2022/23 but hasn’t made the Scotland training squad for the upcoming World Cup. Has 34 Test caps, debuting in 2016 and infamously became one of the British and Irish Lions’ ‘Geography Six’ the following year in New Zealand.

18. Braam Steyn
Soon left the Sharks age-grade set-up to take up an offer in Italy and his time at Mogliano, Calvisano and Zebre led to a move to 2015/16 move to Benetton where he is still an integral part of their URC team. First capped by Italy in 2016, he faced the Springboks at the 2019 World Cup. Has 50 caps, his last awarded over a year ago.

19. Shaun Adendorff
The back row forward went down the Sevens route before returning to the XV-a-side scene, playing for Boland before a couple of seasons on the Super Rugby fringes with the Bulls resulted in a switch to Aurillac in the Pro D2. Also spent some time in England with Northampton before hooking up with Nevers back in the French second tier these past two years.

20. Abrie Griesel
Another whose career in the pro ranks didn’t catch fire. He did his ACL soon after finals, but there were games for Cheetahs, Griquas and Pumas before things fully fizzled out. The scrumhalf also had a few matches for Munster when Rassie Erasmus was their boss as he was playing locally in the All-Ireland League at the time.

21. Tony Jantjies
It wasn’t until 2017 that the replacement flyhalf finally made his Super Rugby debut at the Bulls but he couldn’t make it stick and was seen playing in the Spanish league for Alcobendas a few years later.

22. Travis Ismaiel
Spent his career in South Africa at the Bulls before giving Harlequins in England a shot in 2019/20 a year after he won his only Springboks cap. The wing returned to the Bulls but retired in early 2021 due to chronic shoulder issues. Remarkably came back to play sevens, though, and was capped by the BlitzBoks this year, featuring as recently as a fortnight ago at the London 7s.

23. Oliver Kebble
Another with a recent outing in London, the prop playing last weekend for Steve Hansen’s World XV against the Barbarians. He made a 2014 Super Rugby debut for the Stormers before joining Glasgow in 2017. Debuted for Scotland three years later and has 12 caps but wasn’t named in their World Cup training squad.

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