Cape Town – South Africa powerfully saw off one traditional
old foe on Friday ... perhaps only one other seriously stands in the way of
their claiming the IRB Junior World Championship 2014 title?
The Baby Boks and England, the defending champions, are the
only two teams with maximum hauls of 10 points from any of the three pools at
the event after two rounds of matches, and have probably installed themselves
as roughly joint favourites for the eventual spoils.
The two nations are virtually guaranteed semi-finalists, and
South Africa can close the deal in that respect against Samoa in their closing
Pool C fixture against Samoa on Tuesday, although the rugged Pacific Islanders
may be no complete pushovers after beating Scotland in an earlier match on
Handre Pollard’s fired-up men in green and gold earned a
memorable 33-24 triumph over hosts New Zealand at North Harbour, quite
obviously clearing a big hurdle and not only earning the four-try bonus point
but also denying the Baby Blacks any log points at all in doing so.
France are the only other unbeaten side left, although they
have only achieved a “full-house” victory once thus far, so sport nine points.
The Baby Boks’ physical power and purpose in the engine room
was a key tool in their latest win, and as Pollard noted afterwards: “The pack
got stuck in ... lots of go-forward ball and they mauled it well (too).”
New Zealand’s lineout, especially, was put under fearful
pressure and earned an “absolutely woeful” description from home-based TV
commentator Tony Johnson.
That said, there were also several occasions where the Baby
Bok scrum was a thing of rare beauty – they heeled against the head a few times
and on one such occasion it led to a reasonably effortless try with the New
Zealand defence caught absolutely cold.
Already pounded near-relentlessly, it must have been even
more demoralising for the Baby Blacks forwards when the brawny Bulls prop duo
of Pierre Schoeman and Wilco Louw roared into action off the bench during the
second half and looked eager to help turn the screws straight away.
Perhaps that was the best feature of this performance: the
infectious, collective hunger of the SA side even if there were occasions where
they fell victim to imprecision or lack of concentration.
The one thing the Baby Boks may discover if they run into
England in the knockout phase (most likely the final if they both get there),
is that those opponents will offer sterner resistance at the set-pieces – the
English almost always do – and their own comfortable triumph over Australia on
Friday was also reportedly marked by ruthless aggression at the breakdown.
So a potential clash between an irresistible force and an
immovable object looms invitingly on the horizon.
One hindrance for South Africa is that they are developing
an injury jinx at No 6 flank and hooker, where it is possible third choices in
the respective berths will be doing duty for the remainder of the tournament.
Flank Jean-Luc du Preez had to be carefully stabilised and
then stretchered off after taking a horrible, accidental blow to the head from
an opponent’s knee on Friday.
For the second time in as many matches, after the
first-round slaughter of the Scots, Pollard was at the epicentre of many South
African attacking plays, being instrumental through his peripheral awareness
and off-loading skills in at least two of the four tries.
The flyhalf’s willingness to take contact and challenge the
gain-line purposefully was just another reason why the Baby Boks spent so much
time – especially in the second half – camped in enemy territory.
Pollard’s constructiveness encouraged the following tweet
from fleet-footed former Springbok loose forward Rob Louw (@roblouw6): “Again
great vision from Pollard. So important. Pass in front of the man.”
Some rough edges do need to be sorted out: sometimes the
South Africans were shown up defensively in wide positions when the Baby Blacks
counter-attacked, with that human stick of dynamite Tevita Li proving a major
handful for big opposite number Lloyd Greeff in counter-attacking situations.
Still, Greeff had excellent offensive moments of his own,
including a fine finish for his try at the corner flag and a deft, low pick-up
to set up fullback Warrick Gelant for another.
Even at this relatively early stage, the chances look pretty
rosy that South Africa will advance to their second Junior World Cup final in
three years, after their triumph at the home-staged 2012 event.
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