Boks shake off cobwebs with slow, steady battering past Georgia
The Springboks emerged from their 20-month hibernation with a lazy stretch and gaping yawn before displaying more distinct signs of life to vanquish Georgia 40-9 at Loftus Versfeld on Friday.
They came from the shadows with 12 players that beat England in the Rugby World Cup final but the cohesion that helped propel them to the title in 2019 was in short supply in the first half-hour.
They had hoped to quickly shed the cobwebs of inactivity but their first half was mostly spent having to reset as their game understandably lacked vitality.
The hosts’ forwards did excel in the primary phases but despite securing 70% of possession in the first half they didn’t make real inroads on the scoreboard until just before the break.
There, of course, was no crowd to spur them on as this was their worst attended Test since they beat the US Eagles under a cloak of secrecy in Glenville, New York, in 1981.
To be fair it isn’t in the DNA of the combative men from the Caucasus to raise the white flag.
The Boks were forced to toil in the first half and their battering of the Georgians’ first line of defence gradually took its toll.
In that regard they had several willing and able batterers. Pieter-Steph du Toit was as an omnipresent figure carrying the ball into the heart of the defence and he at times tellingly popped up out wide.
Siya Kolisi. Bongi Mbonambi and Steven Kitshoff also proved heavy hitters in bending the Georgian defence.
At the back many sets of eyes were trained on flyhalf Handré Pollard and his quest for match sharpness before more bigger engagements later in the month.
Pollard has recovered well from his ACL injury and should be at his peak by the time he runs out against the British & Irish Lions.
Fullback Willie le Roux looked far more assured than he did the last time he played for the Boks and proved a calming influence on the debutants on either wing.
As you’d expect, Rosko Specman was lively without troubling the scorers, while Aphelele Fassi showed composure, dexterity and urgency every time he got involved.
Back row debutant Jasper Wiese showed he is up for the fight and challenge.
The Boks’ line-out functioned near optimum levels while their scrum found another gear once Kitshoff, Malcolm Marx and Frans Malherbe stepped from the bench.
They mauled with familiar intent as the match wore on.
They should not be overly concerned with their start in which they lacked cohesion, rhythm and at times discipline.
It was only close to halftime that the Boks got a foothold and started pegging the visitors back. The Springboks’ territorial dominance gradually wore the visitors down but it was only after flank Beka Saginadze was sent to the sin bin that the Boks hit the lead.
Three Tedo Abzhandadze penalties helped give Georgia the lead but the South Africans grew in confidence.
First Mbonambi crashed over for his eighth Test try from behind a maul, before Cobus Reinach scored under the poles after Fassi adroitly handled a pass that was behind him near the touchline.
The Bok pack continued to rumble resulting in tries for Kwagga Smith, Herschel Jantjies and Malcolm Marx in the second half but the Bok brains trust will want a more commanding performance next week.
SA (19) 40
GEORGIA (9) 9
SA (40) — Tries: Aphelele Fassi, Bongi Mbonambi, Cobus Reinach, Kwagga Smith, Herschel Jantjies, Malcolm Marx. Conversions: Handré Pollard (4), Elton Jantjies.
Georgia (9) — Penalties: Tedo Abzhandadze (3).
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