The Baby Boks’ defence of their U19 World Championship crown was not worthy of the name. Outplayed in every facet, they were slaughtered 42-3 by France in Dubai.
This was just abysmal. It hasn’t been often in recent years that a side wearing green and gold embarasses their country, but Eugene Eloff’s side did exactly that in the heat of Dubai. There are few words harsh enough to condemn a display that lacked in precision almost as much as it did in passion.
The saddest aspect is that the scoreline flatters the Boks. Bumbling in every area of the game, they had neither the skill to hold on to the ball or the willingness to tackle when they lost it.
The performance can be summised in the 81st minute. Trailing 37-3, the Boks won a penalty at halfway. They tapped and spread it to an isolated wing, with the pack too lazy or disinterested to support. With the manic French committing to the breakdown in numbers, a turnover resulted and winger Mathieu Nicolas outstripped the one cover defender that bothered to attempt the tackle.
Such an appalling attitude cannot be condemned in strong enough terms. The Baby Boks gave up, and brought dishonour to their jersey.
Everything the Boks were built up to be, the French were. Enterprising, efficient and deadly. The interplay between backs and forwards was a highlight, and the willingness to take from all over the field ran the Boks ragged.
But as good as the French were, there can no explanation for the nightmare 80 minutes delivered by the Boks.
Set pieces degenerated into shambles, with both scrums and lineouts lost with regularity. Passes found the touchline and not hands, almost as many tackles were missed as were made, and the handling errors saw phase play non-existent.
In 2003 and 2005, Eloff won the U19 World Championship. It is almost inconceivable that his 2006 batch should falter so dramatically.
The consequence of the performance is also dire, but is deserved. The structure of the competition means that 12 of the top nations are grouped in Pool A, with only four advancing to the semi-finals. The Boks almost certainly have to rely on a number of upsets for them to progress, with the proviso that they knock over Samoa and England, their next two opponents. And judging by today, that is no certainty.
In the shimmering heat of Dubai, the French could have been mistaken for their senior counterparts, such was the fluidity of their play and the ruthlessness of their execution.
What the heat could not disguise was the 24 kids masquerading as national representatives in green, and their brutal demotion from champs to chumps.
Pen: Conrad Hoffmann
Tries: Thomas Combezou, Jean Monribot, Alexis Palisson 2,Mathieu Belie and Mathieu Nicolas
Cons: Belie 3
Pens: Belie 2
By Chris Hewitt
THE MOMENTS THAT MATTER
81 mins: Why not one more? Nicolas runs in the French’s sixth. The nightmare is complete. Balie can’t convert. (Balie 5/10)
79 mins: Balie misses a routine penalty attempt. (Balie 5/9)
76 mins: The Boks journey from champs to chumps continues. It’s the French’s fifth score through Balie, with tackling again abysmal. He converts his own score. (Balie 5/8)
72 mins: France secure their bonus point try as Bok shoulders droop. This is a massacre and Palisson gets his second in the corner after a stubborn French attack. They know the openings will come, and they do. (Balie 4/7)
60 mins: Awesome French score. That’s salt in the wounds as they score a magnificent break out try from their own line. Offloads and running angles superb. Belie can’t convert. (Balie 4/6)
50 mins: Well that didn’t last long. French score their second, a scrappy score through their captain that should put the game beyond Loffie’s side. Belie converts. (Belie 4/5)
42 mins: Hoffmann puts the Boks on the board as the champs start stronger in the second half. Loffie’s half time talk has had an immediate impact. (Hoffmann 1/2)
39 mins: Boks infringe again, and Belie takes advantage. (Belie 3/4)
35 mins: Belie misses his first shot at goal. (Belie 2/3)
30 mins: Boks have endured a shocking first half. Penalised on the ground and the French take advantage. (Belie 2/2)
26 mins: Boks just clinging on. France again come close ,and are a pass away from scoring their second. Space outwide manufactured by a massive French maul.
20 mins: Baby Boks scrumhalf Conrad Hoffmann is taken in the air as he tries to clean up a lineout. A penalty results, Hoffmann steps up but he misses badly. (Hoffmann 0/1)
12 mins: French destroy Bok scrum.
11 mins: Boks both a simple overlap situation 10m out.
6 mins: A terrible start for Loffie’s Boks. The home side is out of the gates first, and a simple defensive error gifts the hosts the opening score through their outside centre Thomas Combezou. Boks seem hurried and panicked, missing three tackles in the build up to the try. (Belie 1/1)