JWC Final: Record crowd awaits New Zealand and South Africa
(IRB.com) New Zealand and South Africa will go head to head in the IRB Junior World Championship 2012 final at Newlands on Friday, but for now the captains and coaches of both sides are united in labelling the title showdown as “a dream final”.
The traditional rivalry between two proud rugby nations exists at any level, but when you throw in the fact that New Zealand have won the four previous titles and hosts South Africa are in their first final and the host nation, then the match takes on even more significance.
Baby Blacks co-captain Bryn Hall revealed the final was a childhood dream for New Zealanders, while his counterpart Wian Liebenberg echoed that sentiment and the view that to be deserved champions you have to “beat the best”.
“It is a childhood dream to play South Africa, especially in their home stadium in a final,” insisted Hall. “There’s nothing more than a Kiwi boy wants than to play a final, especially against a South African team as good as they are. It’s a dream, not only for myself but for all the boys.”
Liebenberg, who returns to the Junior Boks starting line up in place of IRB Junior Player of the Year nominee Shaun Adendorff having fully recovered from a hand injury, added: “We just wanted to get to the final and win the final.
Deserving of champions tag
“It doesn’t really matter which team we play against but I would say playing against New Zealand is special in the sense that whenever New Zealand and South Africa are playing against each other it is going to be a big match.
“I think because they have been reigning champions for so long, if we beat them then we can truly say we are the new champions.”
South Africa coach Dawie Theron echoed this sentiment, insisting: “They’re a proud rugby nation, just like us. We always said it would be a dream final if it can be New Zealand against South Africa.
“We respect them in the fact that they’re the trophy holders, they’ve won it over the last four years. We don’t really want it any other way than to contest for that trophy in the final against them.”
This will be only the second meeting between the two sides in JWC history with New Zealand having run out convincing 36-7 winners in the 2010 semi finals in Argentina, but both sides have followed familiar pathways to the title decider.
Blessing in disguise
South Africa were rocked by an opening day 23-19 loss to Ireland which, after England narrowly beat the Irish in round two, left the hosts needing to score four second half tries to avoid missing out on the semi finals for a second successive year.
Liebenberg admits that loss brought the squad closer together and made them dig deeper to make their fans proud of them, something Hall reveals was also the result of New Zealand losing their first ever match on the JWC stage, 9-6 against Wales in Pool A.
“We didn’t want to lose obviously, but it has helped,” admitted scrum half Hall. “It’s been great for us. We definitely went over our reviews and the boys starting coming closer and working on those little things that we got wrong, not only in the Welsh game but the things that happened against Samoa.
“We didn’t play to our abilities in both games and I guess that loss made us realise what we had to do. With that result against Wales (in the semi final) I guess we played to our ability but we can definitely pick it up for the final.”
The two finalists boast similar records at JWC 2012, South Africa are the leading point scorers with 134 to 132 of New Zealand, but the Baby Blacks are top try scorers with 19 to 17. The title contenders have also conceded just two tries apiece in reaching the final.
Luck and taking opportunities
With such closely matched teams, it is likely to be the small things that will decide whether it is Hall or Liebenberg who gets the honour of receiving the distinctive trophy from IRB Chairman Bernard Lapasset. The two coaches certainly believe that.
“Principally there are two key areas (where it will be won and lost),” explained New Zealand coach Rob Penney. “Obviously the Africans are a big side, a dynamic side. They have got a lot of physicality and a lot of presence.
“Our ability to deal with that is a critical one and our ability to generate some possession and use it intelligently. It is going to be a very tight game. I suspect that our ability to capitalise on any little opportunity that might fall our way is going to be equally as critical to our robust defence to try and nullify their physicality and tough play.”
Theron, who has also lost star centre and vice captain William Small-Smith to a knee injury suffered in the semi final, added: “I have always said that there is an amount of luck in the game, but when it gets to the final you’ve got to take your opportunities.
“You’ve got to limit mistakes, you’ve got to be very, very aggressive in your defence and you’ve got to be focused for 80 minutes. The main thing is that you’ve got to take your opportunities and I believe discipline will be a key factor.”
Record crowd awaits final
With 30,000 tickets already sold for Newlands for the final day – smashing the previous record for a single day at a Junior World Championship – there is guaranteed to be an electric atmosphere for the final and one that could inspire or stifle either side.
“These boys have never experienced anything like that,” admitted Penney. “Newlands Stadium is just a cauldron when they get a good crowd there. The place will be amazingly noisy, it will just be a buzz for the boys and time will fly. We’re just hoping we’ve done enough work with them behind the scenes to prepare them for this.”
For Liebenberg, the emotions of standing there hearing thousands join you in singing the national anthem and cheering your every attack is hard to put into words and something to remember forever.
“Since I was a little boy I always dreamt of wearing the green and gold and standing in front of a fully packed stadium and singing the national anthem. It’s a special moment, in fact it’s more than special.
“I think it’s an opportunity that you dream of forever, so standing there while you’re holding the guy next to you tightly and you’re looking at the crowd, it’s just amazing. You can’t put it into words. It is such a privilege playing for your country, just giving your all for that jersey you’re wearing.”
Chance to replicate history
New Zealand have made just two changes to their starting line-up from the semi final, one of them forced with Matt Proctor having suffered a concussion after colliding with a teammate in the win. He is replaced by Pita Ahki while Milford Keresoma returns after missing the semi final through injury.
“If we play similar to we did against Wales then I don’t think that is going to get the result," admitted Hall, who hopes to follow in the footsteps of Chris Smith, Aaron Cruden, Tyler Bleyendaal and Luke Whitelock and lift the trophy. “Every ball we need to catch, every ruck we’ve got to go in with the intensity that we need to get in those rucks.
“Everything has just got to be 100 per cent. It is a final and you can’t leave anything out there, so that’s the message that our coaches and the senior leaders have put in. This is our last opportunity to put this black jersey on for this year so just leave everything out on that field.”
Liebenberg has his own dreams of lifting the trophy and replicating the moment when Francois Pienaar held aloft the Webb Ellis Cup after the Springboks won Rugby World Cup 1995 on home soil.
"Francois Pienaar was the only South African captain that lifted the trophy on home soil so it really would be a great privilege and it will be so special for myself, the team and the country and that is what we want to do in this game, we want to go out and carry the hopes of this country and just make them proud.
"The stadium is going to be packed with South African fans cheering us on so we want to embrace that opportunity and use that to uplift us as a team and then rise victoriously."