Rugby Union: Botha shows strain is telling: Springboks scrape through

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Midi-Pyrenees. . .15

South Africa . . .18

WITH a minute to play and the scores locked at 15-15 here Naas Botha refused to watch as his young full-back, Theo van Rensburg, lined up a penalty nearly 50 metres out from the posts.

Struggling to find their form, not to mention their footing, on the soft surface, the South Africans were staring down the barrel of another embarrassing result at the hands of a local French selection.

Although they had scored two tries to none, and although all of the Midi-Pyrenees' points had come from penalties by Benoit Bellot, they had been largely outplayed for most of the match. 'I was beginning to think that I would never experience a victory in this Springbok jersey,' Botha said, recalling his three recent defeats in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Bordeaux.

Troubled by a groin injury, Botha had handed kicking duties to van Rensburg for Saturday's game, and with a final chance to snatch victory Botha, powerless to intervene, looked fixedly at his feet as van Rensburg moved in to kick.

The score shows that the ball sailed between the uprights, giving the Springboks their second win in three games. 'We'll do anything that's possible to win,' Botha said. 'But at the end of the day you're never going to kick tries. You have to go and score them, and the only way to do that is by passing the ball and running forward.'

Perhaps if they can show the same lucidity and capacity of self-appraisal on the field they may stand a chance in next Saturday's Test in Lyons. But with the days ticking by, their first three matches have revealed more questions than answers for the beleaguered South Africans.

Their scrum has rarely looked steady, and this despite endless Rambo sessions on a scrum machine followed by live scrummaging practices which, like most of their training techniques, come from another era. The locals shoved them backwards in the first two scrums here, and for the rest of the game the Springboks were rarely able to supply their backs with a stable platform for attack.

Their line-out also failed to produce dividends. 'We have a lot of room for improvement,' Abie Malan, their manager, said. With Adolf Malan, their key front jumper, out with a suspected torn calf muscle, prospects look even dimmer. On the positive side, however, their No 8 Christian Strauss and the powerful 18 stone lock Drikus Hattingh look to be on the verge of long international careers.

In the backs, the Springboks appear bewildered by their French counterparts. In attack they are laboured and in defence totally disorganised. 'I've seen more breaks by the centres and more enormous counter-attacks by the full-back in one day than I see in a whole year of club rugby,' Walter Spanghero, Toulouse's famous former international, said. 'In the old days when you played the Springboks, if your backs ever got the ball, they always came up against a brick wall.'

The wall has come down, and in short the chances of beating a full French XV appear decidedly slim.

South Africa: Tries Olivier, Gerber; Penalty van Rensburg; Conversion van Rensburg; Drop Goal Botha. Midi-Pyrenees: Penalties Bellot 5.

MIDI-PYRENEES: H Mola (Toulouse); P Garrigues (Graulhet), M Marfaing (Toulouse), H Couffignal, D Dal Pos (Colomiers); B Bellot (Graulhet), F Galthie (capt); F Ancelin (Colomiers), R Tremoulet (Graulhet), C Califano, H Miorin (Toulouse), R Pelous (Graulhet), T Maset (Toulouse), N Hallinger (Colomiers), A Carminati (Castres). Replacements: F Rui (Castres) for Bellot, 72; G Pages (Castres) for R Pelous, 49; J Usson (Valence d'Agen) for Ancelin, 59.

SOUTH AFRICA: T van Rensburg; J Small (Transvaal), D Gerber (W Province), H Fuls (Transvaal), J Olivier; N Botha (N Transvaal, capt), G Wright (Transvaal); J Styger (Orange Free State), H Roberts (Transvaal), W Hills, A Malan, D Hattingh (N Transvaal), W Bartmann (Natal), A Richter (N Transvaal), C Strass (W Province). Replacements: P Muller (Natal) for Fuls, 71; J Truscott (N Transvaal) for Malan, 28.

Referee: P Robin (Perigord-Agenais).