Rugby Union: S Africa quick to impress

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The Independent Online
South Africa .24

New Zealand. .27

SOUTH AFRICA are back as a major power in world rugby. Under a cloudless sky at Ellis Park they brought a crowd of 70,000 to fever pitch when scoring 14 points in the last 10 minutes to come desperately near catching the vastly more experienced All Blacks.

The game seemed over when the tourists stretched their lead to a commanding 17-point margin midway through the second half. It was at this stage that the South Africans gambled on running rather than relying on the mighty boot of skipper Naas Botha, who gained vast amounts of territory.

These changed tactics shook the All Blacks, who had dominated the line-outs and won unlimited second-phase ball. Their captain, Sean Fitzpatrick, said: 'This performance showed that isolation has not affected South African rugby. It was the end of a long tour for our fellows and I am delighted that we managed to hold out against some brilliant running.'

This first official South African international for eight years meant so much to their players, and it was reflected in the determination and pace they infused into those closing minutes. It was the veteran centre, 34-year-old Danie Berger, who showed his colleagues that the All Blacks' line could be breached when he sold a delightful dummy to finish near the posts.

The cheering of a fanatical crowd following the score was quickly stifled when they watched their team concede four successive rucks. By this time the defence was in tatters, leaving full- back John Timu to score near the touch flag. Fox added a brilliant conversion.

Earlier, New Zealand had illustrated that they also had good midfield runners when centre Frank Bunce made a searing break from broken play. With perfect timing he produced a scissor link with the big wing John Kirwan, who swept through.

As expected the Australian referee, Sandy MacNeill, punished the South Africans for lifting in the line-out. Deprived of using this illegal method, their forwards were unable to win sufficient possession but improved in the second half. Botha later voiced his complaints about MacNeill.

During the South Africans' late rally they were fortunate that MacNeill was unsighted and did not see a knock-on by scrum-half Du Preez prior to Pieter Muller scoring. The final try by Gerber, following a penalty for off-side, came four minutes into injury time to provide a fine climax.

On this performance there should be another spectacular game in Cape Town next Saturday when South Africa face the world champions, Australia.

If they continue with the running game which served them so well here, there could be a record number of international tries. Also, that is the sort of game the Wallabies like to play.

Both teams yesterday adopted an aggressive approach but, fortunately, there was no loss of control although three South African forwards were cautioned for stamping and punching. Captains Fitzpatrick and Botha were twice seen involved in confrontations without a blow being struck.

New Zealand owed their first- half 10-point lead to a penalty by Fox and the quick thinking of No 8 Zinzan Brooke, who scored from a short penalty, catching the opposition unprepared.

Another indication of the intensity of play meant that four replacements were needed. New Zealand lost scrum-half Ant Strachan at half-time.

South Africa: Tries Gerber (2), Muller; Conversions Botha (3); Penalty Botha. New Zealand: Tries Brooke, Kirwan, Timu; Conversions Fox (3); Penalties Fox (2).

SOUTH AFRICA: T van Rensburg; P Hendriks, P Muller, D Gerber, J Small (H Fuls), N Both (capt), R du Preez; H Rodgers (J Styger), U Schmidt, L Muller, W Bartmann, A Geldenhuys, A Malan, I MacDonald, J Breedt.

NEW ZEALAND: J Timu; V Tuigamala (E Clarke), W Little, F Bunce, J Kirwan; G Fox, A Strachan (J Preston); R Loe, S Fitzpatrick (capt), O Brown, J Joseph, R Brooke, I Jones, M Jones, Z Brooke.

Referee: S MacNeill (Australia).

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