Baby Boks DO have X-factor!

2016-06-07 21:26
Jeremy Ward (Gallo Images)

Cape Town – It started as a chaotic kindergarten scribble … but ended much more like a central feature in an art gallery.

South Africa kicked off their World Rugby U20 Championship campaign with an ultimately satisfying 59-19 triumph over Japan after an eventful, often breathless encounter in sunny Manchester on Tuesday.

Hearts were in mouths at television-side back home during the badly flawed first half from the Baby Boks, who were rattled by Japanese passion and energy levels and found their own defensive structure to be hopelessly out of sync for a traumatic stint.

Commentators inevitably could not contain themselves in suggesting that another “Brighton” was potentially in the offing as a Tongan-born powerhouse wing weighing 107kg, Ataata Moeakiola, gleefully exploited the disarray to romp over for three tries in the space of 11 minutes – it went a long way to explaining the favourites’ shock 14-19 deficit at the interval.

But the Baby Boks were an immeasurably more polished, cohesive and potent force in the second half, quickly producing a mini-avalanche of try-scoring of their own as they posted a trio – all converted by the splendidly unerring fullback Curwin Bosch -- between the 42nd and 49th minutes to turn the contest right around.

Whatever the standard of the Japanese in relation to the bigger national names of the tournament --  something that is naturally difficult to gauge so early – it is hard to quibble with 45 unanswered points by SA in a single half.

Calmly steered out of their initial jitters by captain Jeremy Ward, who oozed go-forward in midfield and showed off blistering pace at times too, the Baby Boks posted an eventual tally of eight tries and the construction of many of them seemed to confirm veteran coach Dawie Theron’s theory ahead of the event that this group boasts something a bit special in “total rugby” terms.

Supporters hoping to see more of the same from them as the tournament progresses would have been heartened by Ward’s determined, immediate post-game assessment: “In the second half we played the rugby we really wanted to play … we will rock up for the next game with the same mentality.”

That next fixture will be on Saturday against Argentina, who saw off France in their own first assignment.

Apart from finding some lovely overall rhythm on attack and counter-attack as they warmed increasingly to Tuesday’s tussle, a pleasing feature of the second 40 minutes was the way the Baby Boks completely stopped the haemorrhaging in the “tries against” column.

There was a spell late in the game when Japan found a second wind and banged really hard at the enemy line, but the South Africans were having none of it and were particularly heroic in halting a few concerted rolling mauls.

Their pack this year is not made up of too many out-and-out behemoths, and it will be interesting to see how the scrum, for example, holds up against brawnier eights than they faced on this occasion.

Yet a striking feature was the athleticism, off-loading and gap-spotting ability of many of the Baby Bok forwards, to greatly complement the obvious crowd-pleasing desire of the back division.

 The offensive cause is helped a great deal by the pacey and long pass of scrumhalf James Hall, who only reminded why he has already earned Super Rugby recognition with the Kings this season.

He found his mojo more and more after having some initial trouble with some over-weighted releases that found bodies rather than hands at close range, leading to the odd disruptive knock-on or at least a fumble from the recipient.

It would have been a tight call ahead of several worthy others, but the official player of the match laurel went to open-side flank Zain Davids, a product of Rondebosch Boys’ High who made some irresistible surges en route to a brace of personal tries, including one with three hapless defenders more or less strapped to his back.

There are gremlins to be fixed, for sure, but these Baby Boks don’t look as though they will play second fiddle to too many sides in the English jamboree for watchable, skills-driven rugby …

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing




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