Rugby

Baby Boks have title hunger

2014-06-06 14:30
Handre Pollard (Gallo)

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 Friday.

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.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    baby boks  |  handre pollard  |  rugby
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