Rugby Union: Stransky settles the Springboks

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Cardiff. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .6 South Africa. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .11 IT IS A touchy subject, but the longer this dire game went on and the more lethargic the Springboks became, the stronger was the impression that they were suffering withdrawal symptoms - not, one hastens to add, from artificial stimulants but from recent match play allied to a touch of travel fatigue.

Aside from the historical and emotional significance of the South Africans' return to the cathedral of Welsh rugby after 25 years, it was neither the venue nor the opposition the tourists would have chosen for their opening match. They seemed in awe of both.

When the heavens opened just after the kick-off, the Springboks must have already been homesick. In the days when the river Taff was diverted through the Arms Park once a week and twice on Saturday afternoons, the ground would have been a quagmire. But although not ideal for adventurous rugby, the conditions alone could not be held responsible for the poverty of imagination and initiative displayed by both sides. The South Africans have the greater cause for concern.

Their line-out was a mess and their scrummage bereft of menace. As a result we saw little of their speed behind the scrum - the backs preferring the shelter of the forward flock to which they returned time and again.

Dredging the memory, it is hard to recall a game with so little worthy incident. There was the line-out graft of Stuart Roy and Derwyn Jones, the honest endeavour of Hemi Taylor and Mike Hall, while the Springboks were well enough served by their captain, Rudolf Straeuli, and Mark Andrews, who took what worthwhile ball the tourists snaffled at the line-out. Andre Joubert was the outstanding performer, and one tackle by Joel Stransky on Nigel Walker in full flight was the only moment to savour.

For the rest, it was two poor packs on a off day, midfield muddle, a rising penalty count - another worry for the tourists - and handling which would have disgraced the Tooting Bec Heavies. Even the solitary try was scarcely notable, being the result of lamentable defence when Joost van der Westhuizen was allowed to run 40 yards almost unhindered from a ruck. That brought the tourists to within a point of Cardiff, for whom Adrian Davies and Chris John had kicked penalties. How sorely the home side missed the cutting edge which Mike Rayer would have supplied from full- back.

One mistake followed another until Stranksy's penalty put the tourists into the lead midway through the second half. His second, in injury time, gave the Springboks undeserved respectability.

As a serious contest, it finished some way short of the long-distance war of words conducted between the International Board currently meeting in Canada and the South African Rugby Football Union or, to be more precise, its president, Dr Louis Luyt. There have been some viperish exchanges in the last 24 hours. The IB opened with an instruction to Sarfu to conduct an investigation into remarks made by Luyt in last month's issue of Rugby World magazine which, say the Board, have brought the game into disrepute. In the article, Luyt was critical of the organisation of the World Cup and demanded that the game recognise the fact that it was no longer amateur.

Luyt has countered with a statement in which he regrets that the Board should concern itself with the trivia of a magazine article when there were so many topics of major importance to be covered. 'Although I accept the tone of my remarks in Rugby World may not have been to everyone's taste, I think the message was clear - the great issue now confronting the sport is not whether rugby union should stay amateur or turn professional, but whether we should admit what everyone knows is happening in every major country or whether we should sustain the amateur pretence.' Fair enough.

Slightly less fair, however, is the fact that, ludicrously, Dr Luyt, the great dictator, will be conducting the investigation into himself. Any bets on the outcome?

Cardiff: C John; S Ford, M Hall (capt), C Laity, N Walker; A Davies, A Moore (A Booth 30-35); M Griffiths, J Humphreys, L Mustoe, S Roy, D Jones, H Taylor, E Lewis, O Williams.

SOUTH AFRICA: A Joubert (Natal); C Williams (Western Province), B Venter (Orange Free State), P Muller (Natal), C Badenhorst (Orange Free State), J Stransky (Western Province), J Van der Westhuizen (Northern Transvaal), B Swart, U Schmidt, I Hattingh (all Transvaal), M Andrews (Natal), H Hattingh, R Kruger (both Northern Transvaal), G Teichmann (Natal), R Straeuli (Transvaal, capt).

Referee: J Fleming (Scotland).