Boks on Tour
Sleepy start cost Boks again
Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Peter de Villiers and Nick Mallett (Gallo Images)
Cape Town – Failure to learn from a repeated mistake earlier in the season proved expensive for South Africa as their unsatisfactory, rollercoaster year ended with a six-point defeat to the Barbarians at Twickenham on Saturday.Gallery: Barbarians too strong for Boks
In a performance that would have done little to keep coach Peter de Villiers’s detractors from yapping at the door, the Springboks surrendered their “festival finale” 26-20 and by four tries to three – an apt enough summary of the BaaBaas’ superiority.
Mind you, the decidedly second-string Boks might well have ended 2010 on a more joyous note had they not fallen foul of a repeated bogey for them in the year: the anaemic start.
The phenomenon reared its head once more in chilly – but at least snowless -- London as a three-try blitz by the world combo in the first 21 minutes provided the vital foundations for a BaaBaas team who later showed evidence of a collective “babalas” from all their midweek socialising as the Boks did rally to restore an element of pride.
Certainly when Wallaby Drew Mitchell romped over for the third touchdown and his second, it looked as if things could get nasty for the relatively raw South African side, with powerful raiders like Ma’a Nonu making alarming yardage and time-honoured BaaBaas principles of positivity very much on show.
But with hugely experienced, acting captain Juan Smith to the fore, at least his outfit belatedly shrugged off some stage-fright and the Boks actually bossed the second half 17-7 on the scoreboard, even if another decidedly old-fashioned hallmark – their own forward “grunt” – was the main device employed in the recovery.
Maybe we should all just resign ourselves to the fact that South Africa simply don’t do “pretty” comfortably or willingly – there were clues to that even during the week when the Boks, bless them, announced a five-two split on the bench in favour of forwards even for a BaaBaas fixture!
Indeed, there is a case for saying it is too late now, thinking in terms of World Cup 2011, to dramatically alter the “strangle and bully” style so cherished my many gnarly senior Boks who were absent from this lightweight but still worthwhile occasion.
With better continuity and composure, after all, the team that went down on Saturday might just have snatched the spoils because there were times when brute force near the BaaBaas try-line was either used to telling effect in points terms or impressed in sporadic doses.
Also in defence of embattled De Villiers and his right-hand men, the side fielded here contained only two established first-choicers in Smith and Bakkies Botha – really this was more of a SA Invitation XV in so many ways, and the loss has hardly rammed a fatal stake through our rugby heart.
But it also shouldn’t mean we must summarily dismiss the all-too-obvious failings on show, either: once again we saw a bunch of players in green and gold who look too blunt and predictable when the ball is tossed down the line, with passing technique sometimes lamentable.
We know from watching copious amounts of Super 14 rugby that South African franchises are capable of dash and verve to match the best of ‘em – it is high time the national side demonstrated at least an occasional ability and desire to cut a defence to ribbons via fleet-footed wizardry rather than rumbling brawn.
Again, I felt, the cause was not helped by poor “bench management”. The fledgling Elton Jantjies, for example, showed a few promising touches on non-Test debut for his country, but No 15 Patrick Lambie surely deserved longer than the miserly last eight minutes at flyhalf, when the Boks finally showed a bit of snap behind the scrum.
That event was also aided by the introduction – also too late to make a major difference -- at scrumhalf of Lambie’s Sharks ally Charl McLeod, who offered both urgency and zip.
It wasn’t the worst of days for the Boks’ Sharks contingent more broadly, because Ryan Kankowski made one or two incisive in-field dashes during his 55 minutes on the park, and when ever-popular Beast Mtawarira entered the cauldron soon after the break, South Africa produced some significant heaves at the set scrum.
Big-hearted Cheetahs hooker Adriaan Strauss had salvoes of strong charges in the tight-loose, although his lineout synergy with his jumpers wasn’t the greatest, and a compatriot in the BaaBaas’ colours, WP’s cerebral Anton van Zyl, appeared to have some useful, damaging insight on that front from domestic tussles, didn’t he?
But then the BaaBaas mastermind Nick Mallett is no mug on the South African game, warts and all, either ...