The South African Under 20 side suffered a frankly embarrassing 36-7 defeat to the Baby Blacks in the semi-finals of the IRB Junior World Championship in Argentina last night. The Kiwis will go on to face Australia in the final on Monday, while Eric Sauls’ men will now have to fight England to see who ends third.
The result exposed a few worrying factors for South Africa – not to mention the rugby world in general, since there is such a massive gulf in class between the four largest (read, richest) rugby nations and the rest of the world. For a South African side to be able to score 73 unanswered points against Scotland – and then still get annihilated by New Zealand, just makes you shudder to think what would happen were the kiwis to play the Scots at this level of the game. Surely something the IRB needs to look at if they are serious about broadening the appeal of this great sport…
Looking more closely at our own woes, though, I fear we were somewhat lulled into a false sense of security as a result of big wins against weak opposition in the first two games. Fact is, this team is simply not good enough – in any facet of the game – to challenge for higher honours on the international stage. The pack is soft and has been absolutely monstered in the scrums by both Australia (yes! Australia!) and New Zealand in successive games. Ball retention at the breakdown is non-existant and about the only facet of forward play that looks about right is the lineouts. Decision-making at halfback is poor, while defence is a massive problem throughout the team.
Quite simply, for a team selected from the vast talent pool that South Africa has to offer, this performance was quite simply nowhere near good enough and (to my mind), fingers need to be pointed at the coaching staff. Let’s bear in mind that Eric Sauls has been in charge for three years now and the result is always the same, whereas in years gone by, we have regularly won championships at junior level.
Tighthead prop Marcel van der Merwe and lock Keke Okafor were both prominent on the drive last night, with hooker Monde Hadebe also putting in a few touches. The tight five as a whole scores a fat zero, though, for utter dereliction of duty in the tight phases and the loose forwards were similarly anonymous, with opensider Siya Kolisi showing a few glimpses of what he might be able to do were he playing in a more dominant pack. Lubabalo Mthembu out in some exciting runs when he came on later and had the commentators oohing and aahing, but again it was a case of too little, too late when he tried to spark a revival late in the game.
Scrumhalf Louis Schreduer was, quite simply, atrocious. He single-handedly ensured that whatever good ball did come back from the forwards (there was little) was completely ruined through indecision and poor execution. Flyhalf Jantjes doesn’t have the hands or the skill levels to challenge the best, while centres Branco du Preez and Jaco Taute were both dangerous on attack, yet utterly, utterly woeful on defence. Hell, if the Baby Blacks hadn’t had a serious case of the dropsies all night, they could have scored ten tries simply by running at du Preez, who simply cannot tackle. He’s a wonderful stepper, though and scored the only Baby Bok try on the night.
The back three were similarly ineffective, with Pat Lambie enduring a frustrating evening as he was unable to assert himself on the game. Far too often, he received bad ball and had literally nothing to do other than to hack it away – in all, far from his best performance. Wandile Mjekevu showed some strength and a few good running lines, but his hands let him down far too often and he failed to finish off a number of good scoring opportunities. I believe the other wing was Nico Scheepers, but I’m still trying to remember a single thing that he did all night, whether good or bad.
Not a great result for the Baby Bok class of 2010, it must be said. Of the players on show, only Lambie, Mjekevu and possibly Taute look ready to play Currie Cup rugby, with the rest needing to go back to their unions to see if some proper coaching there can undo some of the damage.Tweet