Boks' huge desert game-hunt
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
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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