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Disappointed Junior Boks shift focus to bronze

REACTION: The fact that they can still earn a podium position at the 2023 Under-20 World  Championship by beating England in the bronze final on Friday will be a huge motivating factor for the Junior Springboks in the next couple of days as they prepare with the knowledge that some silverware can justify the hard work and effort of the squad.

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That is the view of South African Under-20 coach, Bafana Nhleko, following a disappointing 12-31 defeat to Ireland in the semifinals of the competition on Sunday.

The Junior Boks had a strong start in the Athlone Stadium but were outplayed by the U20 Six Nations champions in the second half.

“It was a disappointing result for us, especially given the way we started the first half,” said Nhleko.

“We finished strong in our last game against Argentina and then continued that in the first half against Ireland, so our second half dip was not what we expected. We will have to go and have a look at what went wrong.

“The review will show us where we came up short, but because of the nature of the tournament, we will need to move on from this defeat – the focus will now shift to England and the bronze final.

“We still have a medal to win.”

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The South Africans have finished third more than any other team in the history of the competition and for Nhleko the only aim for Friday is to win.

“We seem to battle to get past the semifinals over the years, but it is not over yet,” he said.

“We are still in the competition with something to gain and that is where we are heading now with our preparation.”

Nhleko also feels the Junior Boks have another opportunity to showcase their worth as a group: “The group have shown good growth over the last couple of months and have one more opportunity to lay down a marker, to show what they are capable of and to leave a memory to those who follow and support the game.

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“This group can take confidence from the fact that they can compete on a certain level, and they have one more opportunity to show that.”

Nhleko said it is a scant reward that they are the only Southern Hemisphere team in the final four.

“The dominance of the northern hemisphere teams is obvious and, in that regard, I suppose we do carry the hopes of the southern hemisphere to get onto the podium,” he said.

“I am sure New Zealand and Australia would have loved to be in our position on the last day of the tournament.”

The team for England will be announced on Wednesday.

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