South Africa, like New Zealand, have been consistent in Junior World Championship history, finishing in the same position for the last three years. However, unlike the Baby Blacks with their three titles, the South Africans have had to settle for third place each year.
The man charged with breaking that sequence, and ensuring that New Zealand don’t extend their unbeaten run in the Championship to 20 matches, is Dawie Theron and the former Springbok believes he may have discovered the secret to doing just that and securing the first Age Grade titles for South Africa since the IRB Under 19 and Under 21 titles in 2005.
“I have done a bit of research on the history over the last couple of years and one thing that stood out to me was that the South Africans always seem to be more physical and larger, bigger players,” Theron told Total Rugby Radio recently.
“We always had physical and big players [in the past] and over the last couple of years there was a tendency that the teams that were selected, or maybe that was just the groups that came through, were a bit smaller on average.
“If you look at the stats, after Australia, England and New Zealand, we lacked a bit of size there and I think the physical presence on the field also played a big role, so what we are trying to do at the moment is really dig deep and look for those talents, but in combination with size and talent.
“We have seen it so many times with the New Zealanders and with their physical presence coming through. I think if you look at South Africans and the senior sides with guys in recent years like Os du Randt, a skilful player with a huge presence.
“That is the type of players we are looking for to go and stop the physical presence and physical aspect of some of the other sides. That is where the key [to success] is.”
South Africa were actually the last team to beat New Zealand in an IRB Age Grade tournament – in the semi finals of the U21 World Championship in France in June 2006 – and would dearly love to host the IRB Junior World Championship 2012 as the defending champions.
Theron, who takes over as the Baby Boks head coach from Eric Sauls, knows it will be no easy task to claim the prestigious Under 20 title in Italy this summer and has recently returned from a three-match tour of Argentina with his young charges.
“The goal of the tour was to get to the bottom of the core of the team we want to take to the World Cup in Italy,” explained Theron, who played 13 Tests in the Springbok front row between August 1996 and August 1997.
“We looked at a couple of young guys as well, we took along I would say seven or eight guys that will also be available for us in 2012, and the whole idea was to get to know each other better and get the management together away from home and build a bit of a team spirit.”
South Africa slipped to an 8-7 loss to an Argentinean XV in their opening match, but then with “a more senior side, guys that most likely 80 percent of them will be in the World Cup squad” ran out 46-29 and 22-13 winners over their Argentina Under 20 counterparts, leaving Theron “very pleased” with the tour as a whole.
Theron now faces the difficult task of cutting his squad to the 26 players who will travel to Italy for the 10-26 June tournament, which sees the Baby Boks face Scotland, Ireland and England in Pool C with only the top side guaranteed a place in the semi final.
LISTEN AS THERON TALKS TO TOTAL RUGBY RADIO >>