Pack worries for Baby Boks

2013-06-14 12:03
Dawie Theron (Gallo)

Baby Boks v France

2013-06-14 07:37

See pics from the 2013 Junior World Championship game between the Baby Boks and France.

Cape Town – If South Africa become only the second side after New Zealand to successfully defend an IRB Junior World Championship title, they may do so this year despite, rather than because of, their tight five resources.

The Baby Boks produced a performance of sheer grit, instead of any marked dominance, to see off fired-up hosts France 26-19 in their final group fixture on Thursday and advance to a semi-final clash with Wales in Vannes on Tuesday.

For the second match in succession, after they had also encountered set-piece problems en route to victory over England (that team tackle New Zealand in the other semi), the South Africans were rather alarmingly bossed at scrum-time and seldom banked really clean lineout ball either.

It seems fairly clear that Dawie Theron’s charges don’t boast nearly the kind of “grunt” in the engine room they sported last year when winning the title for the first time, and on home soil.

After some early issues up front in the Western Cape-staged event in 2012, the Baby Boks eventually settled on a forceful, first-choice eight which powered them to success, including in the well-attended Newlands final against the New Zealanders.

On that occasion, with props Steven Kitshoff (admittedly already Super Rugby-smart) and Maks van Dyk to the fore, they famously ran the Baby Blacks backwards in scrums a couple of times to strike key psychological blows en route to the 22-16 triumph.

In their ranks also were second-row giants Paul Willemse and Ruan Botha, with utility factor Pieter-Steph du Toit operating as a powerhouse blindside flank; had it not been for injury, the Sharks youngster would almost certainly have earned a Bok lock place during the current June Test window.

There is no lack of collective heart in the class of 2013, but the fact remains that nobody in the present Baby Bok front five looks remotely like challenging so quickly for a berth in the senior national plans.

The French eight marched imperiously forward every time they had their own put-in on Thursday, and desperately few Baby Bok scrums were safely won on the day.

Instead South Africa won primarily because their defence somehow repelled wave after wave of French surges – buoyed by a raucous and partisan crowd – and their classy backline was able to make enough of limited possession to counter the three tries by the home side with a trio of their own in an enthralling contest.

The Baby Boks also appear to lack nothing in the conditioning and stamina department, because to their eternal credit they seized territorial ascendancy when it really mattered in the last 10 minutes or so to finally douse the fire of Les Bleus, and also matched bone-crunching French hits with various whoppers of their own.

The South African back three is also a critical factor among the team’s virtues: once again Cheslin Kolbe at fullback was a simply irresistible presence and every time he had the ball in his hand you felt anything was possible, even in the tightest of spaces.

A little closer to the primary heat of battle, though, the team’s brains trust produced a tactical masterstroke in restoring Handre Pollard, a “veteran” architect of last year’s success, to the flyhalf slot from inside centre against France.

The Blue Bulls prospect put up an inspired all-round performance, including kicking off the tee better than he had earlier in the tournament, but his defensive stoutness, in particular, was invaluable in protecting his hard-pressed channel at times.

There are shades of Henry Honiball or Peter Grant-like resolve to the way the No 10 willingly puts his body on the line.

Just how much of a threat the Welsh will be on Tuesday remains to be seen: they have come through a relatively “easy” pool with wins over Samoa, Scotland and Argentina.

Their best ever finish at the Junior World Championships, since its installation in current format in 2008, is third, achieved last year when they beat the Argentineans 25-17 in the playoff match for that slot.

If the Baby Boks have a few fairly obvious areas of vulnerability in 2013, their squad hardly falls short in the “ticker” and composure departments, which means they certainly cannot be discounted for clinging to the crown ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    baby boks  |  rugby

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