Rugby Union: Paulse puts life into Springboks

t RUGBY WORLD CUP All Blacks misery compounded as South Africa triumph in play-off
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IT MAY be a daft time for a star to be born, but Breyton Paulse earned himself a priceless place in Springbok folklore before a rapt 70,000 audience in Cardiff last night. The multi-skilled wing from Western Province is almost laughably small by modern-day rugby standards - indeed, he looked about an eighth of the size of a certain All Black opponent when he lined up to face the New Zealand Haka before kick-off - but his wonderfully inventive try midway through the first half gave South Africa victory over their greatest foe and saved them the trouble of qualifying for the 2003 World Cup. Legendary Boks of the past would have happily died for less.

In the end, the Boks proved to be less shattered than their rivals by last weekend's joint semi-final trauma, and they fully deserved to take the play-off spoils. Paulse played with real fire and enthusiasm, repeatedly drifting off his wing into dangerous in-field areas; he is an ideas player, a visionary in green and gold. Robbie Fleck was also worth his weight in Krugerrands in midfield and the fellow Capetonians overshadowed the New Zealand back-line.

Put 15 South Africans and the equivalent number of New Zealanders on the same rectangle of mud - and the Millennium Stadium was worryingly muddy last night, raising fears for the state of the paddock come final time tomorrow - and trans-continental bonhomie goes straight out of the window. They would be at each other's throats in a game of Monopoly these two, and once Kees Meeuws, the Otago prop, had given the Bokke a serious eyeballing during the Haka, any misguided thoughts of a quiet, civilised 80 minutes evaporated into the damp night air.

It was Meeuws who made the first meaningful metres, ploughing into South African territory in typical low-slung fashion until Andre Venter stopped him dead with a heavy cover tackle. Two big hits from Pieter Muller followed and although the All Blacks were dominating possession, much of their ball was of the poisoned chalice variety. Muller's clattering assault on Christian Cullen was so effective that Joost van der Westhuizen almost scored at the other end as a direct result.

A case of "Game On", then. Mehrtens kicked two penalties in the opening 24 minutes, his accuracy matched by a similar strike from Henry Honiball, playing his final Test, and a remarkable drop goal from Percy Montgomery, who bounced his effort off and over the All Black cross-bar from fully 50 metres. They love a drop, these Springboks, even when Jannie de Beer is giving the Boot of God an evening off.

It was Paulse who blew the game open, though. When Jonah Lomu, unnervingly quiet on the New Zealand left wing, was finally released on 26 minutes, he promptly found himself sacked by a posse of Springbok tacklers and comprehensively turned over. Paulse had moved into centre field to fill in for his absent inside backs and when he received some runnable ball from the ruck, he chipped both Tana Umaga and Mehrtens and completed a memorable score as the ball slipped away from the covering Cullen. Mehrtens and Honiball then exchanged penalties before the New Zealand stand-off took advantage of a blatant piece of off-side lurking by Andre Vos to reduce his side's interval deficit to four points.

Not unreasonably, the pace dropped after the half-time oranges; the Bokke forwards, with Venter and Rassie Erasmus generally in control in ruck and maul, repeatedly quashed any All Black drives up the middle and even when Lomu raised a gallop down the left touch-line, Stefan Terblanche was quick and brave enough to fell him with an inspired tap-tackle. The South Africans had the edge at the set-piece, too, where Cobus Visagie made another intelligent contribution on the tight head.

Yet Mehrtens always threatened to snatch the game, and the questionable honour of third place in the tournament, out of the fire with his impeccable marksmanship. Only when Montgomery, a thoroughbred hoofer if ever there was one, dropped his second goal six minutes from time was the All Black effort smothered for good.

NEW ZEALAND: J Wilson (Otago); T Umaga (Wellington), C Cullen (Wellington), A Ieremia (Wellington); J Lomu (Counties Manukau); A Mehrtens (Canterbury), J Marshall (Canterbury); C Dowd (Auckland), M Hammett (Canterbury), K Meeuws (Otago), N Maxwell (Canterbury), R Willis (Waikato), R Thorne (Canterbury), J Kronfeld (Otago), T Randell (Otago, capt). Replacements: P Alatini (Otago) for Umaga (h-t); C Hoeft (Otago) for Dowd, 50; D Mika (Auckland) for Thorne, 65; A Oliver (Otago) for Hammett, 70.

SOUTH AFRICA: P Montgomery (W Province); B Paulse (W Province), R Fleck (W Province), P Muller (Natal), S Terblanche (Natal); H Honiball (Natal), J Van der Westhuizen (Blue Bulls, capt); O Du Randt (Free State), N Drotske (Free State), C Visagie (W Province), K Otto (Blue Bulls), M Andrews (Natal), J Erasmus (Golden Lions), A Venter (Free State), A Vos (Golden Lions). Replacements: O Le Roux (Natal) for Du Randt, 48; A Van den Berg (Griqualand West) for Andrews, 65; R Kruger (Blue Bulls) for Vos, 73; C Rossouw (Natal) for Drotske, 75.

Referee: P Marshall (Australia).

South Africa 22

Try Paulse

Con Honiball

Pens Honiball 3

Drop goals

Montgomery 2

Half-time: 16-12

New Zealand 18

Pens Mehrtens 6

Attendance: 70,000