Commentator Willie Lose reflects on the most competitive IRB Junior World Championship to date, won by hosts South Africa after a 22-16 victory before a record crowd of more than 35,000 at Newlands.
Willie, what a fantastic climax to the Junior World Championship?
It was probably the perfect final. I think that over last four editions we have seen a New Zealand side that has progressively got better and in the final they have basically annihilated and destroyed Australia and England on a number of occasions. Whereas against South Africa, at home, 35,000 mad fans actually in the stand, and also a couple of points to prove as well, I think South Africa had a lot more hunger, a lot more desire and they deserved to win.
VIDEO: Relive the JWC 2012 final at Newlands
The atmosphere at Newlands wouldn’t have looked out of place at a Test match?
I think that is why a lot of these guys are going to learn from it, the experience, the pressure, everything that is involved, just a nano second is the difference in timing that if your pass isn’t right, if you miss a tackle or if you are on the wrong side and get stepped that creates opportunities for the opposition. They were a very appreciative crowd who were knowledgeable about rugby because as soon as South Africa started dominating and started doing the things they did well they really got behind them.
New Zealand, though, weren't about to let their title go without a fight and it could have gone either way right to the end?
I think that is the character of that New Zealand team as well. There was a lot of pressure on them heading into this tournament as the side hadn’t been beaten. I always maintained my thoughts that if they were to get up and win this tournament they would look back on that loss against Wales as the wake-up call they needed. But I have got to say that I think that Rob Penney, Chris Boyd and Scott McLeod, the three coaches for New Zealand, did a magnificent job because when they arrived, from the first game I saw against Samoa, and then Wales and Fiji, what transformed in the semi finals and then in final was nothing short of a miracle because basically they started to believe, they started to have a lot more of a game plan, a lot more pressure got put on the individuals themselves.
I think that guys like Jordan Taufua, Ihaia West and young Bryn Hall – that is what I always call the brains trust of eight, nine and 10 – they started dominating, they started doing the set pieces and communicating and making sure that the links were good and from that they started getting some good go-forward ball and were able to finish it with guys like (Jason) Emery and (Opetera) Peleseuma.
That said, I really have got to say this South African side, it is one of the best I have seen over the five years of the tournament. They deserved the victory and are going to be very tough to beat in the future.
How much of an advantage was it for them to play at home before a crowd like that?
I think that probably gave them about a six-point head start. It was incredible, you could see even during the national anthems and as they stood up to challenge of the haka, you just had a sense that this South African side wasn’t going to be beaten, purely because they were at home and also because of the experience and a number of guys that they had on the field who had been playing at a very high level.
I thought that Steven Kitshoff saved his best for last. I thought a guy like that coming back from Super Rugby would play to a level where the guys would actually have to raise their game, but we got to see that he dropped his standards in the first round and I thought he was really disappointing. Then in the semi finals and in particular in the final some of the stuff that he did was just vintage and just what you want out of a prop, whether it be at scrummaging, lineouts, even a couple of tackles that he made that were just instrumental to saving certain tries. Big-time players and I think that is what got them over the line but certainly that crowd was worth points to them.
Another player that stood out was Jan Serfontein who was named IRB Junior Player of the Year 2012 after the final, how much of an impact did he have on South Africa and their success?
He is a player that I think is going to be wearing the national colours probably quicker than a couple of the others because he has just got a great work-rate. I watched him a lot throughout the tournament, his ability to offload, his ability to actually chase and contest everything and to score four tries in the tournament is testimony to how he can finish. He had a really good partnership with William Small-Smith, who unfortunately got injured in the semis.
I just felt that he was head and shoulders above anybody else in the tournament and we always seem to identify one of those every year. We saw Aaron Cruden and Zac Guildford, a year later they were All Blacks and are now World Cup winners. The same can be said for Julian Savea who was actually in this tournament two years ago and now has donned that jersey as well.
I think that Jan Serfontein is destined for great things and I just hope he is well-managed, and also protected to a certain extent, and coached in the right ways that he can develop and be one of those great players ... and I think he will be.
Serfontein pipped Irish fly half JJ Hanrahan to Award, a player who was instrumental in Ireland being the only side to actually beat South Africa at JWC 2012. They finished fifth, their highest ever placing, but they are probably still regretting the one that got away against England?
That is what they will look back on. I think that every team had their moments where they showed their real class, but it was the consistency of Ireland that really got them there and I thought that Hanrahan, his goal kicking is unbelievable, he is a such a beautiful striker of the ball and the amount of votes he got from the IRB Facebook page is testimony to the fact he has a lot of friends out there on social media.
I think they let themselves down because they started to play within themselves. I thought that when they beat South Africa they challenged South Africa, they decided to chance their arm. I think they went into that game as the opener, to sort of say we have got nothing to lose, we are against a side that is at home who are expected to finish top of the pool, and they threw the ball around, charged down a couple of kicks as well to score tries. They looked much better as an Irish side to what we saw as they got towards the end of the tournament as it was more for territory and feeding off mistakes from France in that particular game. I think the inconsistency of Ireland is the reason why they were playing for that position.
VIDEO: Relive Ireland's shock openign win over South Africa
South Africa and Ireland weren’t the only teams to record their best finishes though, Wales and Argentina also did in finishing third and fourth?
It was interesting because they qualified first and second after pool play and nobody would have ever picked that they would finish first and second, with South Africa third and then New Zealand fourth coming in with better points difference. I thought that Wales really were a class act to start with and things sort of started to fall away. I think because of the nature of this tournament and also five games in that short period of time you need to rely on the bench and you need to rely on the squad I think more than the bench, and we saw when changes were made the intensity and things dropped and it wasn’t where it would have been were they playing their top 15 players.
But not taking anything away from Wales, I thought that through Kirby Myhill I think they have been tremendous and what they have added and given to this particular tournament. I thought that Matthew Morgan and Tom Habberfield, his experience from the time he has had on the Sevens circuit was testimony to why he is just such a better player than he was in the past. I think Wales did well, Argentina are also a side and the concern I have is that these guys now go back to playing club competitions and is that club competition going to be good enough for them to actually secure contracts or be able to bridge that gap between playing at an Under 20 level and then playing at full international? There is no doubt that Argentina, Fiji and Wales have some players that wouldn’t look out of place in a Super Rugby jersey.
What sides have perhaps disappointed you?
I have been disappointed with Scotland, I think that Scotland always seem to have a get out of jail card when it comes down to not playing for the relegation game because they really came and offered nothing. In a couple of games that I called where they were playing the skill level, or lack of it, was very disappointing. The other team that disappointed me, or I thought would have been better, was Samoa because it just showed the gap of coming up from the Trophy to this particular tournament was just too big.
I am sad that Italy is the team that is going to be relegated and go down to the next tier because I think that Craig Green was on the right track of the players that he brought and I think they have a handful of players that in time I think will also go on to represent their country.
What about England and Australia, who recorded their worst ever positions of seventh and eighth?
Interesting. I know that David Nucifora takes a lot of pride in the Australian set up and he managed to get the guys quite some time at the Australian Institute and they looked for pace, they looked to play a game plan where they wanted to be more explosive and try and run the ball and use the Sevens players that they had because they had a fair few of them in the side, but they never got the go-forward, they never had a plan B and so when the weather deteriorated and some of their lighter-footed players didn’t get the chance that they wanted they looked pretty average to be honest.
I think they will go back and say maybe we need to look at a different type of player as well because the steppers and the fast gazelles, they excel at Sevens but they don’t do too well in the 15-a-side game at set pieces, so that is where they let themselves down.
I don’t know what it is with England, I don’t know whether it is just because they are brought up in an environment where school rugby is strong in certain schools so you sort of become a little, not so much arrogant but you gain so much confidence at that level that when you come and try and perform, outmuscle or do things in a bigger environment like the World Championship and you get outmuscled or outplayed they have nothing to go to. I think personally they seem to be playing such great rugby at schools, Under 16s and Under 18s, and then when they get to this level they start to go into their shell and not play the expansive game and not show the skills they definitely have. I think that is a shame because there are some great players in that team as well.
What kind of legacy is this tournament going to leave behind in South Africa?
It’s hard to compare tournaments because I think it was special in Wales, I think Japan added something totally different because to take rugby at that level to a country where rugby doesn’t really rate in the top 20 sports and to show the players of the future was wonderful for Japan. I think that Italy was the exactly same and also in Argentina.
The legacy that will be left here, I think is the intensity and the crowd support that they got for that final. We are always going to remember that this is a country that is absolutely besotted with rugby, a bit like New Zealand and Fiji are with Sevens, that people love the game and that is why they are so good at it and everybody is so knowledgeable about it. The legacy that will be left is this young Baby Boks side who were able to beat in a final for the very first time a New Zealand team that has dominated this tournament over the last four years.
How do we follow what has been the most competitive tournament to date?
I think when we go to France it is a totally different situation. Teams always evaluate what has happened in this tournament, they look at the strengths and the weaknesses. I think we go into the Championship in 12 months time in France with a brand new whiteboard, where there are no expectations because gone is the myth that this New Zealand team can’t be beaten, gone is the theory that sides like Argentina and Wales can’t qualify first in their pools and gone are the theories that if you qualify from the lower division to come up that you are going to be knocked back down.
For me I am excited about next year. I think that what it is going to do is that everybody has caught up to New Zealand, and in fact some of them have surpassed at that stage, and maybe it is just because every one of five or 10 years you get a batch of guys that aren’t as exceptional as they have been in the past and maybe that is just one of these crops. But I think the legacy, and also looking forward to what happens in France next year, it is going to be one where I believe there will be eight or nine teams that will actually challenge as opposed to the five that we had this year.
VIDEO: Relive a record-breaking tournament in South Africa