Lions in SA

Bok second tier ridiculed

2009-07-06 13:48
Poor performance? (File)
Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

Cape Town – South Africa’s rugby “reserve” strength finds itself barely short of laughing-stock status after the heavy third-Test reverse to the British and Irish Lions in Johannesburg.

Former Springbok coach Nick Mallett joined the knockers – many of them from the UK media, it must be said, trumpeting the Lions’ 28-9 win as though it had been series-deciding – by saying what many Bok supporters would have grudgingly conceded: “Some of the players who were given a big opportunity (as incumbent Peter de Villiers made 10 starting changes) were disappointing.”

Ever-provocative Stephen Jones of London’s Sunday Times gleefully ripped apart Bok rookies like Zane Kirchner, Jongi Nokwe and Chiliboy Ralepelle, giving all of them four-out-of-10 ratings.

He said fullback Kirchner “played like a tiny schoolkid at a convention of big bullies – out of his depth”.

That may have been an over-the-top assessment as this writer, for the record, felt the Bulls man showed enough in flashes to suggest he could yet settle eventually into the No 15 jersey.

And former Bok wing Ray Mordt told a SuperSport programme after the Test that Kirchner had been made unnecessarily vulnerable by having novice wings with him in the back three, rather than seasoned Bryan Habana and JP Pietersen.

Jones, who may well not have been witness to some of Nokwe’s swerving runs for the Cheetahs and even, for instance, the Boks against Australia at the same venue last season, produced the old race card: “With the greatest respect, this appeared to be what they call a selection from affirmative action.”

Of hooker Ralepelle, he said he “struggled badly” and it was “absolutely no surprise when Bismarck du Plessis sailed into view” for the second half.

Brian Moore, that in-your-face ex-England hooker, used the Daily Telegraph as a platform to lambaste the Boks’ match-day XV.

“Those who shouted loudest the previous weekend, that any adverse comment after defeat was whingeing, have been quickest to claim the Lions beat a Springbok second XV. They forget their pre-match supremacist boasting that their reserves were better than the best the northern hemisphere could offer.

“In uttering these pathetic statements they fail to realise that therein necessarily lies an insult to the tourists far worse than the refusal to allow any Springboks to play in pre-Test games.”

Writing the last of his weekly Lions tour columns in the same organ, Mallett, obviously a more impartial voice, said the lesson was “quite simple” for De Villiers and his coaching team: you could not make 10 changes from the previous match and expect success.

“It was a further reminder that South Africa can get ahead of themselves. Jake White almost made the same mistake at France 2007 when he fielded a mixed-up team for the pool game against Tonga and had to rescue the situation by bringing on his No 1 players.

“The Boks have finished the series in a worrying state … the scoreline reflected the Lions’ superiority.

“They need to realise their first XV is appreciably better than the team which started this final Test. There is quite clearly not the strength in depth that they thought they had.

“The players they brought in were disappointing – some of them were innocuous and flaky. Kirchner, Nokwe, Ralepelle and Johann Muller all struggled. The team looked very disjointed and thoroughly disrupted.

“The truth about the Springboks is that if they are to function properly they need Bakkies Botha and Victor Matfield together at lock. The pair are the engine of the team and generate immense power.”

Interestingly, Jones was at odds with Mallett over Sharks workhorse Muller, giving the stand-in second-rower 8/10: “A very fine performance … outstandingly conspicuous in the resistance.”

But that may be only because the writer has not been well-disposed to first-choice Botha since the controversial Loftus citing incident.

The general global mood post-Lions tour, however, appears to be that the World Cup champions are surprisingly beatable, especially if some of their crusty senior troops are absent …


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