South Africa coach Dawie Theron believes that playing in the IRB Junior World Championship on home soil over the next few weeks will give his players “the time of their lives” and is confident the Junior Boks can draw on the local support to succeed.
Theron, who was in charge when South Africa recorded their worst finish of fifth in four editions of the Junior World Championship, is adamant though that the players are not allowing the excitement of playing at home to get to them.
“The guys are itching to get on the field but are maturing very well and focusing on the job at hand very professionally,” insisted Theron after seeing the squad have a run out against the Hamiltons first team on Tuesday evening.
“That’s the kind of flavour the guys that have been playing in Super Rugby bring to the team.
“‘We are very proud South Africans and it’s an honour to play in our country. Being part of a national representative team is very prestigious, they boys are very aware of it and really want to impress our country.
“I think this is going to be the time of some of these guys’ lives, they will look back on it in 20 years time and will be able to realise the greatness of playing in this tournament at home, especially in Cape Town and Stellenbosch, the South African cradle of rugby.”
Theron has had to deal with injuries, star fly half Johan Goosen being ruled out only days after the squad announcement with a shoulder injury with Kevin Luiters (knee) and Dean Hammond (hamstring) more recent casualties.
The coach insists, though, that the call ups of fly half Handrè Pollard, winger Raymond Rhule and scrum half Vian van der Watt have not caused a problem with the players having already been part of the training camps.
“Luckily we have done our homework, the selectors have done a great job and we had a list of reserves ready. We had worked with those guys so we already knew who would have been the next one be called up.
“For those guys who are out it’s sad but that’s life, that’s rugby! We can’t hold them back from physical contact before an important tournament like this. The next guy that stepped in performed well and I'm very happy with their performances.”
Rugby of our lives
Theron is a huge believer in the IRB Junior World Championship and its value to young players with South Africa’s own Pat Lambie and Francois Hougaard two of 130 players to graduate to the Test arena after playing in the tournament.
“More and more players will come through from the Junior World Championship, I know it from my heart, and that’s always why more emphasis is being given to this tournament.”
South Africa open their campaign against Ireland at Danie Craven Stadium in Stellenbosch on Monday, before tackling Italy and England in their remaining Pool C matches with only the winner guaranteed a place in the semi finals.
Theron hopes his players can rise to the challenge and end New Zealand’s grip on the trophy.
“South Africa has home ground advantage, we’re going into this with a very motivated side and have some Super Rugby experience so we want to go in there and play the best rugby of our lives.
“We want to have fun, we want end successfully and it would be very nice to bring the trophy to our country.”