Sauls hoping history repeats for Baby Boks

(IRB.COM) Friday 11 June 2010
By Frankie Deges
 Sauls hoping history repeats for Baby Boks
South African coach Eric Sauls - Photo: Jano Colcerniani/IRB

South Africa coach Eric Sauls is hoping to disprove the adage that history never repeats.

No stranger to Argentinean soil, Sauls' last journey here 11 years ago ended in victory and he, together with assistant coaches Nico Serfontaine and Pine Pienaar, have every intention of making this visit just as successful.

Sauls' previous visit in 1999 was also as coach of a age group side, only last time the tournament was the Under 21 SANZAR/UAR, the predecessor to the IRB Under 21 World Championship played between 2002 and 2006.

The squad that from South Africa in 1999 marked the international debut of a number of high profile players who would later make their mark on the global rugby scene, among them captain John Smit as prop and Jake White as assistant coach.

Both Smit and White would later play key roles as captain and coach when South Africa lifted the Webb Ellis Cup for a second time at Rugby World Cup 2007 in France.

Having cleaned up during the pool games of the 1999 tournament, Sauls' side found themselves facing a highly favoured New Zealand team in the final with the opposition's line up including several future All Blacks in Ben Blair, Doug Howlett, Rico Gear, Chris Jack and Carl Hayman among them.

Missing link

A tightly fought contest from start to finish, victory would only come with the final scrum of the match when wing Frikkie Welsh crossed the line and full back Johan Roets converted to push South Africa ahead for a 27-25 win.

"I have good memories about that tournament and those players. It is always very pleasant to come back to Argentina," explained Sauls.

In charge of the Baby Boks since 2008, the 54-year-old completed coaching stints in Italy and Ireland after the Argentinean tournament but immediately returned to the junior level with first the Under 19s and then the Under 20s upon his return.

This year marks Sauls' third attempt to claim the IRB Junior World Championship title, with his side having been knocked out at the semi final stage in the two previous tournaments by England - 40-21 in 2009 and 26-18 in 2008.

"In the last few years South Africa had won all international tournaments - Rugby World Cup, Tri Nations, IRB Sevens and the Super 14. This is the only one we couldn't secure," Sauls explained.

"We want to win, because it will be great for our country. We are under pressure but we will take advantage of this."

One at a time

South Africa's title aspirations could depend on the outcome of their final Pool C match against Australia at the Estadio CA Colon in Santa Fe with only the winner guaranteed a place in the semi finals.

Both sides go into the pool decider, which kicks off at 16:10 on Sunday, with 10 points after enjoying emphatic wins over Scotland and Tonga. Australia sit top of the pool after their 58-13 and 67-5 wins over Scotland and Tonga respectively, the Baby Boks having beaten the same sides 73-0 and 40-14.

Sauls said the intensity of the IRB tournament, where teams are required to play every four days, has meant his side have had little opportunity to reflect on future challenges, preferring instead to take each match as it comes.

"This is a tournament that you obviously have to approach one by one," insisted Sauls. "Just by the news and information we've got [on Australia] they are a good team and they will be a tight competition for us.

"Our approach is easy - if you want to win this JWC then you have to win each and every single game so we will definitely go out for the positive to win. It's exciting, it's always a big derby, the Tri Nations with New Zealand, Australia and South Africa, so obviously we are looking forward to that one."

The winner of the encounter between South Africa and Australia will progress to the semi-finals with the other Pool winners, with the losing side forced to await other results before learning if they will join them as the best runner-up.