Boks’ scratch side squeak home

2010-06-07 00:00

THE hastily-assembled Springboks, collectively and individually, produced about half-an-hour of excellent rugby and that was enough to see off the limp challenge of the Welsh in the weekend Test at Cardiff’s Millenium Stadium.

Springbok captain John Smit later described his team 34-31 victory as “ordinary”, but there were mitigating circumstances. Certainly the lack of preparation showed in the first quarter when the Boks were confused and penalised by Irish referee Alan Lewis at the scrum and turned over far too much ball, but they started to settle as half-time approached and their improved scrum and the threatening presence of Victor Matfield in the lineout helped them take charge.

The Welsh, in front of 60 000 supporters, with their strongest available team and two weeks of preparation, should have been able to put away a diluted, disrupted Bok combination. But they needed two tries in the closing seven minutes to give the scoreboard some respectability and they now face a daunting two-Test series in New Zealand.

The Boks had been deep in trouble, down 3-16, midway through the first half after an indecisive Smit, in the backline and with too much time on his hands, first considered a tactical kick, but eventually opted for a weak pass and gifted James Hook an intercept try. But the South Africans kept their composure and led 31-19 before the usual rash of late replacements by coaches Peter de Villiers and Dick Muir helped the late Welsh flourish.

The Springboks have every reason to be proud of the victory, if not the quality of their rugby. None of the Springboks can look back on a faultless display, but there was enough energy and quality to cover the many cracks.

Lock Danie Rossouw, after a shaky start, produced a powerful display, and his angled run produced a second-half try for busy flank Dewald Potgieter, while flank Francois Louw was another to emerge with credit.

Scrumhalf Ricky Januarie, along with many of his team-mates, mixed the good, the bad and the indifferent, while flyhalf Ruan Pienaar, who booted 16 points, showed several excellent touches in his timing of the pass, but should be at scrumhalf against France on Saturday if Fourie du Preez is ruled out.

The settled Stormers’ combination of Jaque Fourie and Juan de Jongh, who also wrong-footed the defence for an excellent second-half try, closed down the Welsh midfield. The brave, slightly-built wing, Gio Aplon, had a far more comfortable game than he did in the Super 14 final.

Wing Odwa Ndungane had one run to score the Boks’ first try and the heavy knock he took in the process ended his Test. Fullback Frans Steyn was typically Frans Steyn as he made a couple of errors, but was strong in the tackle, kicked prodigiously and landed a 50 metre penalty.

The unfortunate Zane Kirchner, rushed all the way to Cardiff as back-up after Butch James was withdrawn, was tossed into action for the final four minutes. He dropped the first ball he received and replacement lock Alun Wyn Jones scored (34-31) to at least provide the expectant crowd with an exciting finish.

Wales head coach Warren Gatland was again left ruing what might have been.

“We are frustrated. If that was a couple of years ago, we would have said what a good performance it was. But we have come on from there.

“In the opening 25 minutes we were clinical, accurate and 16-3 up, and then we caught some sort of disease, I don’t know what it is.

“We lost three lineouts in a row, we had a couple of turnovers at the breakdown and, at 16-3, we gave away a stupid penalty, and that gave them a bit of momentum.”

Gatland refused to accept that they were playing a second-string outfit.

“We played the world champions today and guys who played in the Super 14 final last week. We know if we are more clinical we are capable of beating anyone.”

Well, they had their chance on Saturday and fluffed it.


South Africa 34 (Odwa Ndungane, Dewald Potgieter, Juan de Jongh tries; Ruan Pienaar 4 penalties, 2 conversions, Frans Steyn penalty)

Wales 31 (James Hook, Tom Prydie, Alun-Wyn Jones tries; Stephen Jones 3 penalties, 2 conversions, Hook drop goal).

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