Rugby

Baby Boks can keep heads high

2014-06-20 13:01
Handré Pollard (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - When the dust settles on the 2014 IRB Junior World Championship and their disappointment is placed in some measure of context, South Africa may come to realise that their “silver medal” was a commendable return.

As it happened: England v Baby Boks

Handré Pollard’s Baby Boks were pipped 21-20 by England in a dingdong final at Auckland’s Eden Park on Friday, as the captain ended a praiseworthy three-year personal run at the event including one title success on home soil in 2012.

The highly promising Bulls flyhalf, for whom a senior appearance for the Springboks may be closer than some people think, graciously saluted the victors - but he also implied, with good merit, that perhaps knocking over hosts New Zealand twice had simply required too much of his troops and they were not able to switch on suitably for the showpiece.

It is a notoriously condensed event, taking a major toll on players who get regular game-time, and just beating the Baby Blacks on consecutive occasions in their own backyard sent out a clear signal that junior-level rugby in our country is in customary robust health.

As some critics had feared, South Africa ran into an English team - this was their second trophy success on the trot, and also third final in four years - that was at least their match physically, and blessed with a proud northern-hemisphere scrummaging ethic.

It was mastery of that department which went a long way to explaining England’s victory in what was otherwise a tight and mostly enthralling encounter.

Especially in the first half, the Baby Boks countered the scrum drawback by ruling the roost in the lineouts, with Calvinia-born lock JD Schickerling hugely to the fore both on own and opposition throw-in.

This was also the period in which South Africa really should have made their clear territorial supremacy count more, whilst a further frustration was securing good turnovers but then just as swiftly surrendering the advantage through over-eagerness or sloppy handling.

By somehow leading 11-10 at the interval, England would have been entitled to feel that they were halfway over the wall in jailbreak terms, something that gave them increased heart and conviction in the second half where better traction was achieved.

Pollard had been quoted as saying before the match: “This whole tournament, we’ve been down a bit in the first half, and we believe that even if there are just two minutes left, we can win.”

On Friday, that second wind near the whistle just didn’t come ... even if Pollard came within a few inches of nailing what might have been a decisive dropped goal in the 73rd minute.

Instead, in the countdown to and then slightly after the siren, it was the English in control as they mauled away purposefully and professionally to ensure the narrow shut-out.

It probably won’t be offered up as an excuse for the reverse, but the Baby Boks only continued their hooker jinx at the event; this time Corniel Els appeared to do significant knee damage as he landed awkwardly in a tackle, had to go off on the buggy and was replaced by Joseph Dweba.

Every now and then, with players like midfielder Jesse Kriel and fullback Warrick Gelant routinely prominent, the South Africans attacked or counter-attacked with verve, suggesting that perhaps at this tournament they might have trusted ball-in-hand play a little more than they did; tactical kicking worked well for them on plenty of occasions but it may also have been overdone.

Yet there is really no need to cry over spilled milk; the Baby Boks warrant a warm and admiring welcome back home, even after the top prize agonisingly escaped them this year.

The talent production line countrywide has hardly spluttered to a halt ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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