We catch up with South Africa Under 20 coach Dawie Theron to talk about his squad selection for the IRB Junior World Championship 2012 on home soil, a subsequent injury setback, his hopes for the tournament and their recent series with Argentina.
Dawie, you’re in your second year as South Africa U20s coach, how do you look back on 2011? The tournament result (fifth – South Africa’s worst position) was a huge disappointment to us all because I believe we did not play to our full potential.
What have you put in place or been doing differently in attempt to avoid the disappointments of 2011? The biggest difference compared to last year is that I had more time to put the structures in place, we could plan the training camps and identification of the large pool of players much earlier so we could follow and track the progress of the players.
You’ve recently had a three-match series with Argentina and a long camp with the players, how important was this series to your preparations? The series against Argentina was hugely beneficial to us. It provided the squad much needed game time against international opponents. Also, we decided to give some of the prominent Under 19 players a midweek outing against the visitors, which was also beneficial to the young lads because many of them will probably be part of the SA U20s next year.
How would you sum up the series, a 2-0 win for South Africa? It highlighted some areas that we have to work on, so in that respect I found the series to be very beneficial. I must however add that Argentina did not make it easy with their spoiling tactics.
What lessons did you learn about the players? We treated it as a dress rehearsal and as I mentioned before, we highlighted some areas we need to work on, such as our lineout play and our structure.
Can you feel an extra motivation among them with the fact the Junior World Championship is in South Africa this year ... they don’t want to miss out on playing at home? It is a huge incentive to play at home and to do well. We know the spotlight and pressure will be on us, but we have to use that as a positive driving factor.
How are you personally looking forward to the tournament on home soil? A lot of work has been done behind the scenes between SARU, the IRB, Western Province and the two universities – Stellenbosch and the Western Cape – to make this a successful event. We are very mindful of that and the fact that the management staff must prepare the team so they can be in their best prepared condition.
A number of U20s have been getting game time in the Vodacom Cup and also some in Super Rugby, is there a danger they do so well you lose them for the Under 20s? Luckily myself and the Development Department at SARU have built good relationships with the various Super Rugby and Vodacom Cup coaches, which makes things so much easier for all parties. We are extremely glad for the playing opportunities they’re getting because it will benefit the SA U20s, their provincial or franchise teams and also the players themselves.
Are you excited by the potential of this year’s class of Under 20s? I’m very satisfied with the group of players and looking forward to see them develop as a team.
You’ve just selected the 28-man squad for JWC 2012 – was it a hard selection and how does it compare to last year? A selection of this sort is always difficult, so yes, it was hard! Last year we had a good squad but we did not play to our potential. I try not to compare the squads, but I am excited about the talent we have.
Who should people look out for in the squad? It is a pity Johan Goosen is injured because he is someone that would have stood out. He played last year so he has the experience, while he made such excellent progress this year in the Super Rugby competition. He recently injured his shoulder while playing for the Cheetahs and will be out of action for probably a few months.
What will it take for this squad to claim the title on home soil? We are up against extremely difficult opposition and we try not to get too far ahead of ourselves. New Zealand have not lost a match since the start of the JWC format, while England are always formidable as are the French and the Irish.
What will your focus be between now and the Junior World Championship kick-off? We have a team-building camp from May 6 to 10 in Saldanha on the West Coast and then we will assemble a few days before the start of the competition in Cape Town.