Every inch a Bok B team in Sydney

2011-07-25 00:00

THE Springboks, in spite of their spin doctors and the pre-tour hype, were every inch a B team in Sydney at the weekend as they tamely capitulated in the Tri-Nations opener and lost 39-20 to the Wallabies.

Only the most optimistic South African supporter was expecting the second-stringers to make history by rolling over the full-strength Australians on their home patch.

While the loss (if not the margin) was predictable, it was nevertheless surprising that the Boks, famous for their pride, physicality and steely defence, stood back at the breakdown, went missing in the collisions and missed close to 30 tackles in conceding five tries.

Two late tries by John Smit and Chiliboy Ralepelle added some respectability to the scoreline, but they came in a meaningless closing quarter and did little to lift the blushes.

The Wallabies, 39-6 in front, had by then already cleared their bench and taken their foot off the gas.

Wallaby captain Rocky Elsom remarked succinctly, “We played well when we needed to.”

Captain John Smit and the national coaching staff, as one would expect, dismissed the B team label in the build-up to the Test, but no one watching on Saturday would deny this was a pale imitation of a Springbok team.

What was of concern was that Peter de Villiers’s squad had a fortnight to prepare and everyone knew that Australia’s creative halves, scrumhalf Will Genia and flyhalf Quade Cooper, would be their greatest threat and pivotal to the Wallaby cause.

Yet it seemed for most of the evening that the Springboks were happy to sit back and join the 50 000 crowd in admiring — from a distance — the attacking skills of the dancing Cooper and the scheming, sniping Genia.

The Wallabies also provided the Springboks with a painful lesson on how to attack space, keep the ball alive and run off the ball.

The South Africans, in contrast, kept bashing up the middle, into the arms of waiting defenders and then going to ground with the ball.

Springbok coach De Villiers had said that young fringe players could use this tour to cement their places in the Rugby World Cup squad.

But, apart from flashes from fullback Gio Aplon and wing Lwazi Mvovo, there was little to suggest that the Boks have a bunch of potential world-beaters waiting in the wings.

Certainly centre Wynand Olivier and flyhalf Morné Steyn did little to enhance their cause, while it remains a mystery how flank Deon Stegmann is on this tour ahead of Keegan Daniel.

The Bok scrum failed to make the promised impact, lineouts were lost and ball was turned over at the breakdown. Even skilful players like Ruan Pienaar and John Smit made an inordinate number of errors.

Pat Lambie, introduced for the last quarter, did bring some structure and direction to the Bok backplay and he could well start ahead of Steyn against the All Blacks in Wellington on Saturday.

Smit readily conceded the defeat could have been even more damaging.

“It was disappointing, but it could have been uglier,” said Smit, who scored a late consolation try to celebrate his 103rd Test cap.

Coach De Villiers said he felt “sorry” for Smit who sees this tour as a chance to re-establish himself as the premier Bok hooker, but struggled in a beaten pack.

“It’s not by choice that we brought so many new guys here,” said De Villiers.

“I felt sorry for John at one stage. To be the captain is one thing, but to have no leadership around you, to calm down the new guys, is hard,” he added.

Hooker Ralepelle, who came on for the last quarter — Smit switched to loosehead — said the Springboks would have to regain their pride and self-belief against the All Blacks on Saturday.

Ralepelle, who drove over from the back of a maul for his first Test try, told reporters that the Boks could not afford to wallow in self-pity.

“We have to make sure that we fire even more up front because I felt we didn’t have that Springbok fire that we usually have when we played Australia,” he said.

The Boks’ second-row problems are continuing to mount, with Flippie van der Merwe suffering a rib cartilage injury in the opening minute, Johann Muller on his way home with a hamstring strain and Andries Bekker undergoing ankle surgery in Cape Town tomorrow.

Uncapped former Sharks lock Gerhard Mostert will now join the Springbok squad in Sydney where they are staying until Wednesday before flying to Wellington.

The 26-year-old Mostert has had to travel from Paris after having signed for Stade Francais.

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