Boks start and end with flourish

2009-11-23 00:00

THE Springboks started and ended with a flourish, but they stumbled over familiar problems in the middle before beating Italy 32-10 in Udine on Saturday.

The Springboks, for long periods, were again exposed at the scrum and the breakdown, but the individual brilliance of their backs brought them four excellent tries to provide them with their first win on their European tour.

The Boks’ better moments on the day coincided with their fortunes in the scrum. They started with a spring in their step — and crossed for two early tries by Bryan Habana and Jaque Fourie — because there were no scrums in the first 20 minutes; they ended on a happy note because their latest front-row combination (BJ Botha, John Smit, back at hooker, and Beast Mtawarira) clicked in the scrum and the Boks were on the frontfoot for the first time on their European tour in the final quarter.

Number eight Ryan Kankowski’s midfield break fashioned the first try for Habana after five minutes and the Bok wing then put Fourie over after an excellent counter-attack off a loose Italian kick. The South Africans were 12-0 ahead after 15 minutes, but they then went downhill once they had to scrum and the Italians, on the frontfoot, started testing them around the fringes. Fortunately for the Boks, the Italians had a woeful day with the boot and they missed five easy attempts at goal.

Still the hosts were back in the game when centre Gonzalo Garcia, running in Adi Jacobs’s channel but helped by a dummy runner, cut the Boks’ confused midfield defence for a try and the Boks led 12-7 at the break.

Morné Steyn, out of character, missed a couple of kicks at goal, but he did boot one early in the second half (15-7) while the Italians continued to miss.

The Bok forwards were struggling to snuff out the spirited Italians, but the contest was settled as the final quarter approached when flank Danie Rossouw’s superb flick behind his back released Fourie down the touchline and Habana, again, made the scoring pass to Fourie du Preez (22-7). Craig Gower finally did succeed with a penalty for Italy (22-10), but Steyn immediately responded to stretch the lead to 15 points again.

Coach Peter de Villiers again flooded the field with replacements in the final quarter and this time they worked a treat as the Bok pack started to enjoy themselves behind a front-row that worked as a unit. Scrumhalf Fourie du Preez rounded off another excellent day when he broke neatly from a lineout and replacement centre Wynand Olivier scored his first Test try for the Boks (32-10) to complete the scoring after 73 minutes.

The Bok scrum, until the final quarter, was again a concern, but the lineout was impressive. What was curious, considering their superiority at the lineout and their struggles at the breakdown, was that the Boks, even out of defence, kicked to keep the ball in play rather than booting it to the safety of touch where Andries Bekker and later Victor Matfield were a constant threat to the Italian jumpers.

Du Preez, Fourie and Habana were pivotal to the Boks’ win while flank Heinrich Brüssow, as he has done all season, was a major force at the tackle, where he won penalties and turnovers. The Boks also showed what they can achieve on the counter-attack instead of constantly booting the ball back downfield.

For the rest, the replacements tended to steal the show and flank Jean Deysel, centre Wynand Olivier and the revamped front-row of Botha, Smit and Mtawarira should ensure that selection for the Irish Test in Dublin on Saturday is no formality.

Scorers:

Italy: Try: Gonzalo Garcia; Conversion: Craig Gower; Penalties: Craig Gower; Yellow card: Simone Favaro.

South Africa: Tries: Bryan Habana, Jaque Fourie, Fourie du Preez, Wynand Olivier; Conversion: Morne Steyn (2), Ruan Pienaar; Penalties: Morne Steyn (2).

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