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NZ U-20s salvage draw with South Africa

The Sunshine Coast became Puddle Place as New Zealand and South Africa shared a 13-13 draw in the opening match of the Rugby Championship (TRC) Under-20 tournament.

A 78th-minute try to wing Frank Vaenuku salvaged New Zealand a share of the points, with first-five Rico Simpson narrowly missing the conversion for the victory at the Sunshine Coast Stadium on Thursday.

Down 13-8, New Zealand patiently constructed phases inside South Africa's 22 before Simpson ripped a 20-metre skip pass to the unmarked Chiefs wing.

A tropical downpour turned the field into slush with a vile easterly compounding the misery. The Baby Blacks had the wind at their backs in the first half but were unable to capitalise on an overwhelming advantage in territory. 

The only scoring in a brutal and bumbling opening half was a penalty kicked by fullback Isacc Hutchinson. South African pivot Tylor Sefoor was pinged for not rolling (or swimming) away from a ruck after a determined charge by Xavi Taele. Hutchinson punished the Junior Boks from 25 metres. 

In the 37th minute, Hutchinson kicked a 50/22 and New Zealand finally secured clean lineout possession, eventually earning a five-metre scrum. Unfortunately, Malachi Wrampling knocked on from a scrum, a rare blemish from the bustling No 8.

Hutchinson had another opportunity from a similar position but sprayed the ball wide of the target. Hutchinson, alongside fellow St Bede’s College product Ben O’Donovan, generally applied themselves with poise, courage, and intelligence. The kicking was educated and precision commendable in shocking weather. 

It was an absolute slog in the forwards, with South African loose forwards Tiaan Jacobs, Bathobele Hlekani and Sibabalwe Mahashe menacing. New Zealand’s scrum was steady and robust. New Zealand seven Johnny Lee and locks Tom Allen and Liam Jack (nephew of 67-test All Black Chris Jack) met fire with fire. 

It was going to take something audacious and exceptional for a try to be scored. It arrived in the 53rd minute from the hands of Simpson. A bullet pass sailed 25 metres and hit wing Stanley Solomon on the chest, and he dashed clear. 

New Zealand did not secure the restart and inexplicitly momentum turned. Sefoor kicked a penalty to make it 8-3.

Two minutes later Simpson failed to secure a towering and swirling kick. Ethan Bester swopped on the spillage at the New Zealand 22. Second-five Bruce Sherwood carried on and offloaded in the grasp of a retreating Solomon to Joel Leotlela, who had a clear passage to the line. Sefoor converted the wing's try and it was suddenly 10-8 to South Africa. 

New Zealand Under-20 rugby
The NZ Under-20s salvaged a 13-13 draw with South Africa on the Sunshine Coast. PHOTO: NZ RUGBY/ACTION PRESS

New Zealand appeared to be imploding. Another Sefoor penalty made it 13 unanswered points in six minutes.

Sefoor could have put South Africa out of reach after a scrum penalty in the 72nd minute, but he missed a handy shot from near the New Zealand 22.

In the 73rd minute, flanker JF van Heerden was yellow-carded for an illegal tackle as New Zealand wrestled back the initiative. 

The brisk risk of Simpson added zest to a stagnant New Zealand attack. Solomon was consistently elusive except when he got flattened by Joshua Boulle in a booming tackle, with Solomon bouncing straight back to his feet.

The Baby Blacks showed composure and daring to regain control of a match they marginally dictated for large periods, but almost let slip.

New Zealand’s next assignment is against Argentina on Tuesday (kick-off 7pm NZT). 

New Zealand 13 (Stanley Solomon, Frank Vaenuku tries; Isacc Hutchinson pen) South Africa 13 (Joel Leotlela try; Tylor Sefoor; 2 pen, con). HT: 3-0


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