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
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
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
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
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
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 …
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writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing