Recent United Rugby Championship (URC) winner Sacha Mngomezulu will lead the Baby Boks in their U20 Six Nations Summer Series opener against England U20s at the Payanini Center in Verona, Italy on Friday afternoon (kick-off 5pm).
Mngomezulu only made his Stormers and URC debut just under a month ago, but played an important role as a utility back in the play-offs, particularly in the quarterfinal against Edinburgh when he was introduced in under five minutes as an injury replacement.
He will now slot into the flyhalf berth for the SA U20s, while captaining them over the tournament.
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Lions loose forward Ruan Venter and Bulls lock Reinhardt Ludwig are the other players in the starting XV with extensive URC experience.
The rest of the Baby Bok was put through an SA Rugby Academy programme of almost three months in Stellenbosch, which formed the basis for their tournament preparations.
The team thus believes they are ready for what will be a demanding tournament, starting with a testing battle against England.
“Two years ago, there were no schools and age-group rugby and last year we played in a strictly controlled environment in our home-based international series because of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said SA U20 coach Bafana Nhleko.
“Now we have a group of players that will sing the national anthem before playing for their country, for the first time. Exposure to international rugby is a great step up in their development and their future rugby pathway.
“That’s the exciting part and these guys have started on a great journey, but we are under no illusion as to what tough battles await us over the next three weeks, starting with England.”
Nhleko continued: “I believe we are well prepared, but Friday’s match will demand a huge effort because we are competing against teams that are used to playing at this level on a regular basis.
“We must back up the positive attitude and energy with a good application of our game principles and fundamentals from the start.”
After their opener against England on Friday, the Junior Boks will face against reigning Six Nations U20 Grand Slam champions Ireland and France in quick succession.
Eight countries are in action in the Summer Series – the Six Nations sides as well as South Africa and Georgia – split into two groups of four, with each side playing three pool matches before a cross pool match to decide the winner.