Baby Boks set for epic final battle

PROUD CAMPAIGN: Handre Pollard is hoping for the top prize today. Picture: GALLO IMAGES
PROUD CAMPAIGN: Handre Pollard is hoping for the top prize today. Picture: GALLO IMAGES

WE don’t want to make promises, but we will go out there to make South Africa proud.

Those were the last words Baby Boks captain Handre Pollard spoke before the SA under-20 side jetted out of OR Tambo Airport three weeks ago, en route to New Zealand for the Junior World Championships.

Pollard delivered on his word by reaching the final of the tournament. Now the Baby Boks will hope to make South Africa even prouder by beating the defending champions England when the two teams meet in the final of the tournament at Eden Park in Auckland at 9.35am today.

An epic battle is on the cards. The Boks, who beat the Baby Blacks twice as well as Scotland and Samoa on their way to the final, are unbeaten at the tournament. So is England.

The defending champs have had an impeccable run, beating Italy, Australia and Argentina in the pool stages before knocking out Ireland in the semifinal.

A bruising, physical battle between the two forward packs – the biggest at the tournament – can be expected.

The Baby Boks’ starting pack clocks in with a hefty combined weight of 888kg, with a front row weighing 350kg. The English have a combined weight of 847kg and 323kg in the front row.

“This game is going to be not far off senior test match level because these guys are as big as senior test players,” England coach Nick Walshe said.

Baby Boks coach Dawie Theron said the two sides were very alike and both players and spectators could brace themselves for an epic battle.

“They [England] want to be really dominant up front, as we like to be. They scored a lot of tries from the set piece and that is also a very important facet for us.

“I already spoke to the guys and said if we could dominate up front, we would have the best chance of winning,” Theron said.

Both mentors have played it safe going into the match, making minimal changes to the sides that secured victories in the semis. Walshe has stuck to the same team, while Theron has made a single change to his starting XV.

The South Africans have opted for more brawn on defence on the wing by bringing in Dan Kriel in the place of Lloyd Greeff. Kriel will play on the outside of his twin, Jesse, who will be wearing the No13 jersey.

Pollard will be playing in his second final after winning the 2012 title under Theron’s tutelage. The flyhalf knows what it takes to win, and is hungry to lift the trophy again and lead the Baby Boks in becoming only the second team after New Zealand to lift the trophy more than once.

“This year has been amazing, playing here at the home of rugby [New Zealand]. Now it’s time for the climax. This is probably the biggest match of my career,” Pollard said of today’s match.

The Baby Blacks will be taking on Ireland in the third-fourth place playoff before the final.

Baby Boks team:

Warrick Gelant, Dan Kriel, Jesse Kriel, Andre Esterhuizen, Sergeal Petersen, Handre Pollard, JP Smith, Aidon Davis, Cyle Brink, Jacques Vermeulen, Nico Janse van Rensburg, JD Schickerling, Dayan van der Westhuizen, Corniel Els, Thomas du Toit. Replacements: Joseph Dweba, Pierre Schoeman, Wilco Louw, Victor Sekekete, Jean-Luc du Preez, Zee Mkhabela, Jean-Luc du Plessis, Duhan van der Merwe.

England team:

Aaron Morris, Howard Packman, Nick Tompkins, Harry Sloan, Nathan Earle, Billy Burns, Henry Taylor, James Chisholm, Gus Jones, Ross Moriarty, Charlie Ewels, Maro Itoje, Paul Hill, Tom Woolstencroft, Danny Hobbs-Awoyemi. Replacements: Jack Walker, Alex Lundberg, Biyi Alo, Hayden Thompson-Stringer, Joel Conlon, Callum Braley, Sam Olver, Henry Purdy. – Chumani Bambani

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