JON CARDINELLI reports on the Barbarians’ comprehensive 26-20 win over South Africa at Twickenham on Saturday.
The result will be sweet for Nick Mallett and Alan Solomons, the South African duo that orchestrated a win over the All Blacks in 2009. It was also a massive occasion for the two South Africans in black and white hoops, Anton van Zyl producing a match-winning display at the lineout and Quintin Geldenhuys scoring an important second-half try.
The Barbarians were expected to spurn conservative tactics and hold true to expansive traditions. While they lived up to their expansive billing, their tactics suggested beating the world champions was more important that putting on a show.
The win was forged on a powerful set-piece, with the BaaBaas bossing the scrums and disrupting the Bok lineout. Van Zyl and Chris Jack used their experience of the South African game to make some important turnovers, and were often assisted by the tourists’ lack of precision.
The Boks struggled to keep possession, and when they did build through the phases, unforced errors stalled their momentum. The BaaBaas punished them through some penetrative counter-attacks and used the boot cleverly to further fracture the Bok defence.
Defence has been a problem for the Boks in 2010, one the new players at Twickenham failed to rectify. Barbarians centres Ma’a Nonu and Adam Ashley-Cooper racked up the linebreaks, breezing through the South African midfield with frightening ease.
While the Barbarians were expansive, they played with a lot of structure. Their first try was the product of a clinical build-up, Will Genia slipping a neat inside ball to Drew Mitchell. Their next two scores were achieved from turnover ball, a wayward Bok lineout and a breakdown steal culminating in tries for the make-up team.
Surprisingly, they opted to shoot for goal when awarded a penalty in the dying minutes of the first half. James O’Connor pushed the attempt wide, but the decision to kick said a lot for the desire to win, especially since they were 19-3 ahead.
Some great anticipation by Odwa Ndungane got South Africa back into the contest, an intercept try and subsequent conversion reducing the deficit to nine. The momentum began to swing in the tourists’ favour, although a number of attacking opportunities were wasted through breakdown mistakes.
They brought a physical attitude to Twickenham, but missed the accuracy that destroyed England last week. They battled to train in the build-up to this fixture, and their performance reflected the fact. Francois Hougaard produced a determined individual showing, but neither he nor Elton Jantjies had much ball to work with.
As the clock wound down, the Boks grew more frantic. Beast Mtawarira boosted the scrum when he replaced a disappointing Coenie Oosthuizen in the second half, while the Boks found some parity at the lineout. But turnovers at the tackle point were exacerbated by rolling punts downfield. If there was a stat for metres conceded, the Boks would have conceded plenty.
In the 57th minute, Jantjies missed his second penalty attempt of the night, pushing a relatively simple shot wide. He also missed a tackle on Neemia Tialata, which allowed the All Blacks prop to set-up a try for the South African-born lock, who currently plays for Mallett’s Italy, Qunitin Geldenhuys. It proved to be the telling blow.
Bakkies Botha and Bandise Maku scored late tries, but the final scoreline flattered the visitors. The fact that they missed four kicks at goal shouldn’t detract from the fact that they played poorly. The BaaBaas deserved to win, and even more disappointingly, little was learned about the fringe Boks in a match that was meant to serve as a great opportunity before a World Cup year.