Rugby World Cup 2011

Boks' huge desert game-hunt

2011-09-22 13:18
Bryan Habana (AP)

Comment: Rob Houwing Sport24 chief writer 

Cape Town - Well, the Springboks have bagged enough “biltong” to last the entire squad several weeks, haven’t they?

Gallery: Boks trounce Namibia

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North Harbour isn’t quite the Namib Desert but dust was probably disturbed as far away as Sossusvlei as South Africa trampled their Namibian neighbours in RWC Pool D on Thursday by 12 all-converted tries to nil, amassing a new Bok record score in a World Cup match in the process.

Towards the end of the 87-0 romp the steam-roller simply became unstoppable, as every last drop of remaining energy was squeezed from the ranks of the underdogs and their commitment to the tackle finally went absent in near-entirety.

Perhaps feeling just a little sorry for them, that wholly contrasting bundle of ceaseless zest and enterprise, Francois Hougaard, opted to pretty much bump off referee George Clancy instead, en route to the last Bok touchdown right on the 80-minute mark of the slaughter!

Seven of the Bok visits to the try-line came in the fourth quarter, after I, for one, had just begun to feel reasonably smug about my conservative pre-match suggestion that South Africa would prevail by a margin of around 50 points.

So if you want to be ultra-critical, you could argue that there were reasonably drawn-out passages of play in which the defending champions did not fire at fullest capacity.

But then again, as captain John Smit correctly observed afterwards: “It was a good opportunity to refocus within a game.”

The need to do that emanated from a so-so first half and then similarly sloppy opening few minutes of the second, when some basic errors and daft little bits of over-elaboration or irksome lack of concentration crept in.

Coach Peter de Villiers had also told television at halftime that his charges were not controlling the breakdown as efficiently as they could, and this did change a bit for the better: remember that ace open-sider Heinrich Brussow got a welcome breather for this fixture.

And you also cannot beef too much about a team scoring 56 unanswered points in a half, whatever the obvious gulf in standards.

The match did show that a genuine, collective hunger to see as much action as possible at the tournament runs deep in this Bok squad, with some old troopers going out of their way once more to remind of the remaining fuel in their tanks and a few younger members of the mix similarly dead-keen to tick the right boxes.

In the former category, Danie Rossouw only continues to defy the potential ravages of Father Time; the robust lock was hugely industrious once more against the Namibians.

Say what you like about Smit, too: the skipper very deftly secured the turnover that led to Gio Aplon’s opening try in the seventh minute and then as late as the 77th minute – admittedly operating by then in the controversial role of tighthead – gave the off-load for Rossouw’s penultimate Bok dot-down to signal his own steady improvement as a “full match” factor if need be.

Of course he would have been less happy over his hooker’s role in the Boks botching three lineouts on their own throw within the space of the first 33 minutes, but that department also benefited from the general tidy-up of gremlins as the fixture progressed.

My reservations about another Bok stalwart, Pierre Spies, are largely unchanged – I believe he still goes too quiet during certain pockets of play -- but the No 8 must also earn undiluted credit for some flashes of class: a quick-thinking overhead pass to set up Frans Steyn for a try and later a wicked hand-off before putting perky substitute Juan de Jongh in the clear for one of his pair.

While he was on the park for the first 50 minutes or so, CJ van der Linde, getting a useful run out at No 3, scrummed solidly, even won a rare lineout and basically beavered away with the sort of willingness the Stormers all too seldom witnessed from him in his lethargic Super Rugby presence for them earlier this year.

Willem Alberts stuck up his hand on the day to the extent that he was awarded the official man-of-the-match mantle, but perhaps the player to give the Boks’ brains trust the proverbial “nicest” of headaches going forward was Hougaard.

Simply put, he was slippery at scrumhalf and then just as wriggly and elusive when he switched to left wing after Bryan Habana had finally got his best all-time try-scorer record (39) for South Africa and was eventually withdrawn from the fray.

Hougaard quite clearly would not let South Africa down in either a No 9 or No 11 shirt against top-tier opposition at this World Cup, although I still fancy that Fourie du Preez’s integral role in the Bok tactical kicking game is going to keep him the first choice for biggest clashes.

All in all, it is pleasing the see the champions showing a bit of swagger at a good time …

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