Junior Springbok outside centre Ethan James has been ever-present in the side’s unbeaten run at the Under-20 Six Nations Summer Series in Verona, and the Cape-based midfielder is expected to wear the No 13 jersey again on Tuesday when South Africa face Wales in the final match of the tournament in Treviso.
Entrusted with the responsibility as one of the team leaders – he is one of the vice-captains, the strong running James has been one of the stalwarts of the Junior Boks, who marched to the final on the back of three solid wins in Verona.
James credit the three-month SA Rugby Academy camp in Stellenbosch, as well as the team’s hard work in the scorching Italian summer sun, for their success so far. He was however quick to point out that the job is not done yet, as Wales will be a hard nut to crack.
“It has been an amazing journey so far for me and my teammates. We assembled in April (in Stellenbosch) and trained every day, working very hard in preparation for the Series,” he explains, adding that the Summer Series is fantastic window of opportunity for young internationals.
“From an individual perspective it’s a great opportunity to showcase your talent and to do your best and make use of every opportunity you get out there.
“As a team, I think all of the guys in our age group did not have the opportunities in the last two years because of the Covid pandemic. It would mean so much to us as a group because we came together in April, we worked so hard, put in the hours in Stellenbosch and came here and to play the Six Nations sides who have already had a Six Nations tournament behind them.”
Victories over England, Ireland and France meant the Junior Boks finished top of Pool A and a meeting with Wales in the tournament decider on Tuesday.
The Junior Bok coaches gave the team a well-deserved two-day break, with the mentally refreshed squad of players returning to the training ground to complete their final period of preparations at the beautiful training grounds of Villafranca, their team base on the outskirts of the historic town of Verona.
In the build-up to Tuesday’s Series climax, James emphasised the need to stick to their usual plan.
“Although we’ve not played to our true potential, we will approach our training and mental preparation in much the same way as we’ve done for the other games. We will keep to our processes, and I believe it’s a matter of getting the detail right, so that we can up the intensity and be more accurate in the execution of the game plan.”
Playing alongside skipper Sacha Mngomezulu, and building a good relationship with the playmaker on and off the field, has been a pleasure and huge learning curve according to the midfielder.
“We have developed a good understanding and Sacha obviously has the experience of being part of the DHL Stormers’ Vodacom URC winning team. He leads by example, is a very good communicator and I’ve enjoyed playing alongside him and the rest of my teammates,” said James.
Coach Bafana Nhleko will announce his Junior Springbok matchday for the final against Wales on Monday, with James expected to be handed a fourth start.