Rugby Union: France still fretting over Botha's boot

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The Independent Online
A WEEK ago South Africa made a virtue out of the necessity of winning and this afternoon, when they resume hostilities against France in the second Test at Parc des Princes, it would be expecting too much for them to play it any differently.

When you have a boot like Naas Botha's to hoof you 70 yards downfield, what profit is there in handling - unless, of course, Botha is denied the ball? So when Abie Malan, the manager, suggests that the same pattern will not suffice, it can be taken that in fact the Springboks hope it will.

In a revealing aside, Malan also said: 'Winning rugby is always safety-first.' So which remark most faithfully reflects South African philosophy? With a Botha in the side, the answer is obvious. It is an archaic type of rugby but if it wins matches it needs no other recommendation.

In Lyons France were too disorganised and leaderless to profit from the rigidity of Springbok strategy and lost 20-15, though once they restricted the supply to Botha they were comfortably the superior side. Paradoxically, if they had had a Botha - an outside-half such as Didier Camberabero, for example - they would have won.

Instead they wasted 50 minutes while South Africa built their lead, by which time, with a place-kicker consistently missing the target (and now dropped), it was too late. It is hard to imagine that England will be either as lethargic or as wasteful when the Springboks play at Twickenham in three weeks.

Pierre Berbizier, the French coach, has made four changes in the team but by retaining the same squad of 21 has shown a touching faith in his players. 'I am persuaded that this French team is capable of making the public dream,' he said - though the dream having become a nightmare in Lyons, some of his proteges will not be given another chance if the same happens today.

'If certain players cannot or will not carry on along the right track, we will do without them,' Berbizier insisted yesterday. 'Our problem is that we are attracted to complication and feel repugnance at simple things. I do not mind them making mistakes but I do not like to see the same mistakes made a second time. Those who do not fulfil their responsibilities will not stay with us.'

No wonder Jean-Baptiste Lafond, recalled on the right wing, reckons the French players are 'all in a state of siege'. Lafond, a full-back in club rugby, has been chosen as an auxiliary full-back with the specific purpose of dealing with Botha's raking kicks and turning them to France's profit with his mazy, eccentric running. On his success French hopes may rest, because their back row showed no sign last week of getting near enough to Botha to impair his effectiveness once Garth Wright had got the ball to him.

Perhaps, with the combative Abdel Benazzi and Philippe Benetton in the pack, France will do better this time. Things certainly looked up when these two were sent on in the first Test and if they can pull the cumbersome South African back row around the Parc, rather than trying to take them on at close quarters, they will gain a critical edge.

On the other hand, the Springboks have remorselessly improved from the nadir of their opening defeat three weeks ago, and with every new experience, on and off the field, they become a little better still. Ominously for England, by the time they reach Twickenham they will be at their peak. 'We have proved that we are progressing match after match,' John Williams, the coach, said. 'The players are now beginning to find themselves collectively.'

This may sound a platitude but the development of collective spirit, the steady abandonment of the inter-provincial antagonism that had been exacerbated by having to play among themselves during the years of isolation, has been the triumph of the tour, whatever this afternoon's result.

FRANCE: J-L Sadourny (Colomiers); J-B Lafond (Begles), F Mesnel (Racing Club), T Lacroix (Dax), P Saint-Andre (Montferrand); A Penaud (Brive), A Hueber (Toulon); L Armary (Lourdes), J-M Gonzales (Bayonne), P Gallart (Beziers), A Benazzi (Agen), O Roumat (Dax), P Benetton (Agen), M Cecillon (Bourgoin, capt), L Cabannes (Racing Club). Replacements: S Viars (Brive), C Deylaud (Toulouse), F Galthie (Colomiers), J-F Tordo (Nice), J-M Cadieu (Toulouse), S Graou (Auch).

SOUTH AFRICA: H Reece-Edwards (Natal); J Small (Transvaal), D Gerber (Western Province), P Muller (Natal), J Olivier (Northern Transvaal); N Botha (Northern Transvaal, capt), G Wright (Transvaal); J Styger (Orange Free State), W Hills (Northern Transvaal), H Rodgers (Transvaal), A Geldenhuys (Eastern Province), A Malan (Northern Transvaal), W Bartmann (Natal), T Strauss (Western Province), A Richter (Northern Transvaal). Replacements: T van Rensburg (Transvaal), H le Roux (Transvaal), R du Preez (Natal), H Roberts (Transvaal), D Hattingh (Northern Transvaal), I MacDonald (Transvaal).

Referee: B Kinsey (Australia).

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