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Can Baby Boks emulate 'big brother'?

INTERVIEW: When the Junior Springboks open their Under-20 Rugby Championship campaign against New Zealand at the Sunshine Coast Stadium on Thursday, they will have the benefit of calling on the calmness of towering lock JF van Heerden.

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The line-out operator is one of only a handful players in the Junior Bok squad who has experience of playing at international level, having played a starring role in Bafana Nhleko’s squad that finished third at the World Rugby U20 Championship in Cape Town last year.

With most of the Junior Bok squad entering unchartered waters when they face New Zealand, Australia and Argentina over the next fortnight, Van Heerden’s calmness and his prowess on the field will be a much-needed factor for the young South Africans.

Van Heerden, who turns 20 on May 6, is one of only five members from last year’s Junior Springbok squad who were included in the 31-player touring group for the inaugural U20 Rugby Championship Down Under.

Along with the big lock, who is 2.01m tall and weighs 115kg, the four other players who have SA U20 experience are Zachary Porthen (prop), Asad Moos (scrumhalf) and midfielders Jurenzo Julius and Litelihle Bester.

“Experience helps,” said Van Heerden, who will be a leading figure for the Junior Boks this season.

“I can bring some calmness to the game because of the experience I gained last year.

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“I remember when we played against Georgia, the eyes were a bit big, but it gets better the more you play, and knowing what you’re in for helps a lot.”

 


Added to his experience at U20 level, Van Heerden has underlined his massive potential by stepping up to the senior ranks at the age of 19.

He has played in the United Rugby Championship and the Champions Cup for the Bulls, which underlines his upward playing curve.

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To overcome jet lag and acclimatise, the Junior Boks arrived a few days before their opponents at the tournament base in Twin Waters, Queensland on the eastern seaboard of Australia.

That decision has certainly paid dividends as it allowed the South Africans to settle early and fine tune their preparations for the inaugural event, following their camp training in Stellenbosch.

“We are all very excited to play in this new tournament,” Van Heerden said.

“Growing up as a small boy, you watch the Boks play in the Rugby Championship.

“So, to be part of the first group to play in the U20 version of the Rugby Champs is a massive thing for us.”

Regarding the expectations in South Africa for both the U20 Rugby Championship and the forthcoming World Rugby U20 Championship, Van Heerden said: “It’s nice to have some insight from the outside, but generally, you try and block out the noise.

“Our coaches are driving us to be well-prepared and we are going to give it our best shot.”

The South Africans open their campaign on Thursday against New Zealand, then face hosts Australia five days later (May 7) before their final encounter, against Argentina on May 12.

All matches will be staged at the Sunshine Coast Stadium.

As a schoolboy, Van Heerden played with distinction for the famed Grey College in Bloemfontein, representing Free State at the U18 Craven Week before earning SA Schools and SA Under-18 colours in 2022.

A year later, he was part of the Junior Bok set-up and this season, he will get another opportunity at wearing the Green and Gold.

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