Baby Bok poser for Eng crunch
Baby Boks v Italy (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - South Africa’s coach Dawie Theron faces some head-scratching over the composition of his side to face England in their crucial IRB Junior World Championship meeting at the re-arranged venue of Cape Town Stadium
on Tuesday night (18:45).
The switch of the match to the World Cup 2010 soccer venue comes about after the Danie Craven Stadium’s deterioration into a quagmire after torrential rain in the Western Cape; Newlands has also been asked to answer a “SOS” call for several matches at the business end of the tournament that were initially scheduled for Stellenbosch.
Unbeaten England top Pool B with nine points courtesy of successive wins - the latest over Ireland, the Baby Boks’ first-round conquerors - with South Africa second on six after a much-improved, bounce-back victory of 52-3 over Italy at the University of the Western Cape on Friday night.
In conditions notably better than those at the Craven Stadium, which suffers from its close proximity to cloud-luring mountains, the Baby Boks ran in eight tries against the never-say-die Italians.
They must now aim for a convincing triumph over England, clearly no easy task, preferably with a bonus point themselves or at least depriving the opposition of a losing one, in the quest to top the group and seal a semi-final.
There is potentially the added complication of hoping that Ireland, for their part, don’t run up a huge score in their last pool fixture against “weak link” Italy - at least Theron and company will have a good idea of what they have to do against England because that game will have been contested at the same ground a couple of hours earlier.
Choosing the right troops for the closing pool clash could be a key to South Africa’s successful onward passage to the semis.
Theron and his lieutenants chose what seemed logically close to a “first team” for the opener against the Irish, but the combination looked unimaginative and stuttering for the most part in the 23-19 reverse.
Especially considering short turnaround times between matches at the tournament, sweeping changes were made to the side which tackled Italy, and the reshuffling did appear to bear some good fruit in certain areas.
The dilemma for the selectors will be that the Azzurri were always likely to be the whipping boys of the pool, so sprightly performances by some Baby Bok newcomers will have to be weighed in that context.
Yet this was a decidedly more up-tempo and positive showing by the South Africans, in conditions that were far from ideal because, despite the relative lack of significant rain during the 80 minutes, the pitch was heavy and the Baby Boks played into a stiff, cold first-half wind which later abated.
Some shortcomings from the first game remained, like a rather malfunctioning lineout, and occasional wayward passing or option-taking.
But there were causes for general optimism as the Baby Boks got stuck in with great relish and physicality among the forwards, creating holes in wider positions for the backline to get a decent head of steam too.
The Italians were forced into making almost three times as many tackles as their more fancied foes, although they never completely fractured, to their eternal credit, even as the bombardment was relatively ceaseless.
Without question the player to most make Italy’s hands full was Jan Serfontein, the inside centre who was a dynamo in all respects from start to finish.
The two-try Grey College product combined suitable “directness” and muscularity for a No 12 with a fine sense of opportunism and also some encouragingly silky footwork.
He was aided by a halfback combination, in scrumhalf Vian van der Watt and Paarl Gym schoolboy pivot Handre Pollard, which blossomed more and more as the game progressed.
In darting and then barging his way determinedly over in the corner for the bonus-point try in the 52nd minute, Van der Watt earned a “Divan Serfontein lookalike in flight” tribute from commentator Gavin Cowley, which seemed a fitting appraisal.
With Capetonian rugby fans now not required to make the night-time trek to Stellenbosch on Tuesday, hopefully there will be a strong turnout in expected dry weather at Cape Town Stadium on Tuesday.
With the senior England side bypassing the city during their three-Test tour here, this junior encounter with the old enemy, with its make or break element, is at least some consolation ...
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