By Ian Gilbert
When South Africa hosts the IRB Junior World Championship 2012, there will be echoes of the remarkable events of 1995 for the Rainbow Nation.
Cape Town and Stellenbosch will stage the Under 20 tournament in June and the galvanising effect of rugby on the country cannot be underestimated according to SARU President and IRB Vice Chairman Oregan Hoskins.
“South Africa’s Rainbow Nation has been a miracle and rugby was hugely instrumental in bringing about that miracle. Who would forget seeing Nelson Mandela and Francois Pienaar both holding aloft the Webb Ellis Cup in 1995?” said Hoskins.
“Many people truly believe it was the cement that kept this divided people together through tough times.”
Hoskins sees parallels between that triumph and the IRB’s premier age grade competition, which runs from June 4-22.
“Having the Junior World Championship in June in many respects, for a lot of people, will be reminiscent of what happened in 1995, when we saw all the big rugby nations come to South Africa to play this game.
“And now we’re going to have the big nations again, albeit at Under 20 age level. It doesn’t really matter, it’s going to bring people together and just be something that South African society needs.
“It needs to be reassured and the Rainbow Nation needs upliftment and assistance from a great game like rugby.”
Of course, the success of Rugby World Cup 1995 was sealed by the Springboks getting their hands on the Webb Ellis Cup for the first time and Hoskins would be happy to see history repeat itself.
South Africa’s Under 20s have never finished better than third in four years of the Junior World Championship, last year failing to reach the semi finals for the first time and having to settle for fifth place overall.
“The junior Boks have been extremely disappointing over the last few years and they know that they’ve let themselves down time and time again,” admitted Hoskins.
“Having the game at home and being the host nation has probably been a timely boost for the Baby Boks, that we’re hosting the tournament in our own backyard. I can assure everybody that I haven’t seen such a nice vibe in the build-up to their preparations like I’m seeing now.”
Only time will tell if Hoskins’ wish comes true and South Africa can wrench the distinctive silverware from New Zealand’s hands, but for that to be a reality the Baby Boks must first get past England, Ireland and Italy in Pool B.