It was a wet day at Newlands and perhaps that was why South Africa’s 26-0 win over Italy in this one-off test match will be recalled as one of the least memorable matches to be played at this famous ground.
Gavin Rich writes on Superrugby that the Boks scored four tries to nil and were full value for their victory in that, unlike last week, they set about the task of winning this game in the time honoured way that you do test matches — by suffocating their opponent with an approach that emphasised basics and forward control. In this way, it was much more like the first test win against Wales in Bloemfontein than last week’s clash at Loftus.
However, while their driving maul, which netted two of the tries, was a big positive for them to take onto the field in the event they face New Zealand or Australia in the wet in the Tri-Nations, there was not too much else to enthuse over in a turgid game which only briefly brought out any semblance of a test match atmosphere in the 36 000-strong crowd.
Indeed, it may well have been a day where the Boks learned more about what is not good for them than what is positive. For a start, while Frans Steyn could well still be the future Bok flyhalf in that he is still only 21 years of age and has time to learn, that future is definitely not any time soon.
Steyn battled with his decision-making, and while his prodigious field-kicking boot played a part in keeping the Italians pinned in the corners, he generally just makes too many mistakes when filling this critical position to inspire any confidence. If anything, the Boks looked slicker when Peter Grant came on in the second half and Steyn moved to fullback, where he has played some of his finest rugby for his country.
It was Steyn though who produced the bit of magic that got the Boks onto the scoreboard for the first time in the sixth minute. Bryan Habana had run a ball back from deep, evading several defenders with a jinking run, before, from the recycle, Steyn punted ahead before gathering himself and going over for a try that he converted.
Then came those two driving maul tries, the first of them, in the 17th minute, the product of perfect execution as Bakkies Botha won the lineout near the Italian line, tapped it through for Juan Smith to set up at the back, and then the forwards as a unit drove hooker Bismark du Plessis over the line for the score.
It was Du Plessis again who dotted down the next drive, but had to wait until after half time before scoring it, with the Italians coming back into the game in the second part of the first half and the game generally degenerating into a comedy of errors that was not at all good to watch.
Sadly, the most remarkable moment of the first half was probably the dangerous challenge from lock Carlo Antonio de Fava that saw Bok No 8 Ryan Kankowski carried off the field on a stretcher. It did not look at all good, with Kankowski’s neck appearing to snap back with the force of the high challenge.
But although Kankowski was concussed and could well be doubtful for the first Tri-Nations test against New Zealand in Wellington in two weeks’ time, the medical staff reported back that he was able to sit up in the change-room after leaving the field and the injury was not as serious as initially feared.
The other thing the Boks would have learned from the game, other than that Steyn is not an immediate candidate to play the big test matches at flyhalf, is that Beast Mtawarira, like his Zimbabwe countryman Brian Mujati, is not yet ready for test rugby.
There was a big roar from the crowd when Mtawirara was on hand to take a pass to score a try in which Ricky Januarie and Joe van Niekerk featured strongly in the buildup, but the man known as the Beast did not touch the ball often, and what should have been of concern was his vulnerability in his primary phase.
Indeed, the scrumming was the one area where the Italians came out of the contest better than the Boks, and with the All Blacks coming into view in a few weeks, this is an area that is going to require a lot of hard work.
Schalk Burger’s appearance on the field going into the last quarter was also welcome, for it is becoming clearer with each passing week that Luke Watson is definitely not the answer as a specialist openside flanker. He does not hunt and scavenge for the ball like a No 6 should, and appears to have morphed into a linking and ball carrying loose-forward, which is perhaps understandable if you consider where he plays for the Stormers.
South Africa 26: Tries by Francois Steyn (5 min), Bismarck du Plessis (16 min), Du Plessis (42 min), Mtawarira (54 min). Steyn kicked three conversions.Tweet