Rugby Union: Tourists in driving seat

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The Independent Online
Llanelli. . . . .12 South Africa. . .30 A VISIT to Stradey Park, a real hotbed of rugby union, can be an unnerving experience for even the mightiest of touring teams, but the South Africans were equal to everything Llanelli could throw at them yesterday, and outplayed their hosts in every aspect of the game.

Not even the return of Tony Copsey from suspension, and the re-appearance of the maverick Mark Perego, who has a habit of going missing from the club, could save the Scarlets from what was virtual humiliation.

Statistics show that the Springboks were the greatest rugby nation on earth (and that includes the All Blacks) before the sporting boycott, and are now striving manfully to crawl their way back to the top echelons of the game before the World Cup.

Yesterday, there were signs that their renaissance is real and they were always in the driving seat. The hard-pressed Llanelli forwards were constantly up against it.

The Springboks have seemingly found the key to the modern method of driving forward play and, with their physical approach and athleticism, they are beginning to look a very dangerous side.

The best South African feature yesterday was the energetic and controlled play of their half backs Westhuizen and Stransky, who appeared to have settled the doubts in the Springbok selectors' minds about what they consider a problem area.

This partnership was consistently impressive and expansive, in direct contrast to the poor performance of the Llanelli halves, who failed to give their team any tactical direction or assistance.

Strangely, there was little of the fervour, passion and excitement that is guaranteed when Llanelli play a touring team, either from the players or their supporters. It was as though they were in awe of the Springboks, who were playing here for the first time in 25 years.

The Springboks adapted well to the alien damp conditions and the development of their forward drive was largely due to the example set by their fine captain Francois Pienaar, who is also not afraid to tick off one of his players for foul play. He was ably aided and abetted by Van Der Bergh, Mark Andrews and Uli Schmidt.

On the matter of foul play, the Springboks were no worse than most touring teams, and there was fault on both sides; Paul Jones judo-threw Westhuizen and a Springbok stamped on Wayne Proctor.

From the beginning, the Springbok forwards built up a terrific head of steam, witnessed by the fact that Stransky had three penalty kicks at goal in the first 15 minutes and succeeded only with the last. Stransky then scored a fine blind-side try, before Llanelli produced one of their best passages of play. A series of forward drives had the Springbok defence at full stretch and they finally drove the ball over the line, and from the scrum back they brought off a lovely miss-move from which Matthew Wintle scored a try in the corner. Colin Stephens converted.

Further tries by Van Der Bergh, and Andre Joubert, with Joubert converting his own, made it 20-8 at half-time.

Joubert then kicked a penalty before Pienaar scored a terrific support try after a strong run by Jappie Mulder to make it 30-7. However, to their credit, Llanelli refused to buckle and the last 10 minutes played their best rugby of the game. A long period of sustained pressure ended with Phil Davies putting in Proctor for a try. But that could not disguise the Scarlets' disappointment at their uninspired performance.

Llanelli: I Jones; W Proctor, N Boobyer, N Davies, M Wintle; C Stephens, R Moon (capt); R Evans, R McBryde, S John, P Davies, A Copsey, P Jones, J Williams, M Perego.

South Africa: A Joubert (Natal); C Badenhorst, B Venter (both Orange Free State), J Mulder (Transvaal), C Williams; J Stransky (both Western Province), J Van der Westhuizen (Northern Transvaal); B Swart, U Schmidt, I Hattingh (all Transvaal), M Andrews (Natal), H Hattingh (Northern Transvaal), F Pienaar (Transvaal, capt), G Teichmann (Natal), E Van der Bergh (Eastern Province).

Referee: D McHugh (Ireland).

(Photograph omitted)