French flops took day off

The battle of the hemispheres at Newlands turned out to be a non-event, writes Keo in his weekly Business Day column.

If this were a cricket match there would have been an investigation. That is how disinterested and disgusting the French were at Newlands on Saturday. If it were a boxing match it would have been stopped in the opening round. That is how one-sided it was.

But this was rugby for goodness sake and the least we should have got was a physical contest against the two teams considered the most physical. Instead the French went down at the singing of the South African national anthem when a third of the crowd was still trying to get into the ground. Imagine if the vuvuzelas were allowed into Newlands to mess with French heads? A French player or two would probably have committed suicide!

What a pity that the Six Nations champions would pick the Saturday of all sporting weekends in Cape Town to take the day off. What a pity for those who made it to Newlands with a hangover from the sporting high of Friday’s Fifa World Cup opening day celebrations. What a pity rugby’s unofficial World Cup final between the respective champions of the north and south proved a non-event.

The French rugby players and management were guests of their French soccer counterparts in their goalless draw against Uruguay at Cape Town Stadium on Friday night, and they played on Saturday as if they were guests of the Springboks.

The French have never been as charitable in the last five years against the Springboks as they were on Saturday. This was a match that was over as a contest within the first 20 minutes when the Boks led 20-0 and the French defence looked more like a clumsy attempt at ballroom dancing.

The pity is the Boks were up for this one, especially after their coach Peter de Villiers had said the standard of the French Top 14 did not compare with the Super Rugby. De Villiers will keep on saying that if the French keep on playing like they did on Saturday.

And while France are always capable of producing one sensational performance at a World Cup, this group of players showed a capacity to produce the opposite as well, which makes one wonder if France can ever be considered among the favourites for next year’s World Cup in New Zealand.

The French, in trying to defend their non-arrival, said they were tired. On the surface it is a fair comment because their season did end two weeks ago but it is not an accurate comment because they played like a team with no interest. There is a difference between being fatigued and not being bothered. Those who played for the Springboks in Toulouse last November were also tired, and even though they lost to France they played with desire and interest, which explains a seven-point defeat as opposed to Saturday’s 25-point differential that should have been 50.

The Springboks played like a champion side; it won with style and sounded another warning to the All Blacks and Wallabies that it will take a special 80-minute effort to beat the Springboks between now and the World Cup.

The Springboks were dominant in contact and it looked like a senior side roughing up juniors in every collision. Danie Rossouw’s defence was destructive, Schalk Burger’s was a close second and even Ricky Januarie tackled as if the French had stolen his burger and chips.

Rossouw and Burger created fear with their tackling, Victor Matfield ensured the now traditional confusion to opponents at the lineout and Francois Louw produced the complete loose-forward performance in only his second Test.

The Bok backs collectively did not perform as good as the forwards. Individually, Januarie, Morne Steyn, Gio Aplon and Jaque Fourie were the masters of their own destiny against opponents willing to let them do what they wanted, but frustratingly Zane Kirchner and Wynand Olivier again did not transfer their imposing Super Rugby form to the Springboks.

The puzzle of Olivier and Kirchner aside, Bok rugby has never been as strong or as spoilt for choice. Peter de Villiers, after picking the best of the Super 14 to hammer the champs of the North, could pick a Vodacom Cup XV to beat the Six Nations chumps Italy.

Or more appropriately he could choose a team of South Africans playing in the French Top 14 because that would at least make for a more appropriate contest.