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Koen proves his worth after nervy start

REACTION: Junior Bok head coach Bafana Nhleko admits that playing Liam Koen at flyhalf in the opening game of the 2024 World Rugby Under-20 Championship was a risk that paid off.

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Koen, who is the son of former Bok flyhalf Louis Koen, made his return to the game after a lengthy injury lay-off and he put in a solid performance in a 57-7 win over Fiji at Cape Town Stadium.

“I am very happy for him. We spoke a lot over the last two weeks about how it’s going to go,” Nhleko told reporters after the match.

“It’s almost to the script with a little bit of nerves in the first five or 10 minutes and a lot of energy drained.

“But once he settled in with the plan and how the team sort of rallied around him, I thought it was good.

“He backed himself to execute certain things and drive the team forward.

“We are very happy for him, but he probably still needs to get a bit fitter.

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“Once we sort that out then we will keep going.”

Meanwhile, Koen admitted that it took some time for him to get into the game.

“I was very nervous in the first five minutes,” he said.

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“It was my first game in over a year, so I was nervous. But I think as the game went on, I got into the game.

“I think the goal-kicks, especially the two from the touchline, also helped with the confidence.

“For me, it’s about driving the team and I thought I did that well.”

The SA Under-20 side face Argentina on Thursday in their second pool game, and with that in mind, the Junior Bok coach said it was important to keep an eye on player load management.

“We learnt some harsh lessons in the past, so we must get the balance right,” said Nhleko.

“We will keep the spine together as we look at managing the squad because the Argentinians are a tough, physical team.”

Replacement scrumhalf Ezekiel Ngobeni was stretched off after a tackle collision late in the second half against Fiji.

“He was taken to hospital for a check-up, but he is okay, he is a warrior,” said the coach.

The team will undergo a recovery session on Sunday and resume training on Monday.

“Thursday’s game against Argentina kicks off at 19.00 (SA time) at the Danie Craven Stadium in Stellenbosch.

Additional source: SA Rugby

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