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'Tough decisions' before Baby Bok squad is named

TEAM ANNOUNCEMENT: The South African team for the forthcoming World Rugby Under-20 Championship in Cape Town was announced on Friday.

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Zachary Porthen, one of five players who will feature in the tournament for a second time, is the captain of the team.

Apart from Porthen – who will pack down at prop – the other players who played in the tournament on home soil last year are JF van Heerden (lock), Asad Moos (scrumhalf), Jurenzo Julius (centre) and Litelihle Bester (wing).

Junior Bok coach Bafana Nhleko acknowledged the difficulty in finalizing the 30-man squad due to the high level of commitment and desire shown by the entire training group.

“We had to make some tough decisions to choose what we as coaches believe would be the best selection for the competition,” Nhleko said.

“I commend all the guys who have been part of the journey thus far and the sacrifices made, but from hereon, the focus will be towards building cohesion within the squad.

“We are excited for the challenge that lies ahead, the players are keen to create their own story and we can only take confidence from the work that the group has put in.”

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The training squad reconvened this week to begin their preparations since their return from Brisbane last month, where they participated in the inaugural Under-20 Rugby Championship arranged by SANZAAR.

Nhleko said: “That tournament gave us an opportunity to play in three very tough, competitive matches, presented us with key learnings and areas to work on, but we also grew as a group.

“We are keen to keep driving good behaviour and build on the positive aspects of our performances.”

The Junior Boks are grouped in Pool C with Fiji, Argentina, and England.

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France will defend the title they won in Cape Town last year, and the SA U20 team will look to improve on their bronze medal from 2023.

The tournament kicks off on June 29 at the Green Point-based Cape Town Stadium and Athlone Stadium, with subsequent pool match days scheduled for July 4 and 9.

The play-offs, including the semifinals for the top four sides, will be staged on July 14, with the Final and ranking matches on July 19.

The Junior Boks will start their campaign on Saturday, June 29 against Fiji at the Cape Town Stadium, followed by pool games against Argentina on July 4 (Danie Craven Stadium in Stellenbosch) and England on July 9 (Athlone Stadium).

South African Under-20 squad

Props: Casper Badenhorst (Bulls), Liyema Ntshanga, (Cheetahs), Reno Hirst (Golden Lions), Zachary Porthen (captain, Western Province), Ruan Swart (Bulls).

Hookers: Ethan Bester (Sharks), Luca Bakkes (Western Province), Juan Smal (Bulls).

Locks: Adam de Waal (Western Province), JF van Heerden (Bulls), Thomas Dyer (Sharks).

Loose forwards: Batho Hlekani (Sharks), Divan Fuller (Western Province), Keanu Coetzee (Bulls), Sibabalwe Mahashe (Golden Lions), Thabang Mphafi (Golden Lions), Tiaan Jacobs (Biarritz).

Scrumhalves: Asad Moos (Western Province), Ezekiel Ngobeni (Western Province).

Flyhalves: Liam Koen (Bulls), Tylor Sefoor (Cheetahs).

Centres: Bruce Sherwood (Western Province), Joshua Boulle (Western Province), Jurenzo Julius (Sharks), Philip-Albert van Niekerk (Bulls).

Outside backs: JC Mars (Western Province), Joel Leotlela (Western Province & SA Sevens), Litelihle Bester (Sharks), Likhona Finca (Golden Lions), Michail Damon (Bulls).

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