Rohan Janse van Rensburg scored a late try to help the Springboks salvage a 31-31 draw against the Barbarians on Saturday, reports JON CARDINELLI at Wembley.
On a bitterly cold afternoon in London, the Barbarians burned white-hot. The makeshift side comprising players from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa combined to devastating effect. Indeed, there were times when the Baa-Baas looked the more settled unit, and the Boks looked the invitational outfit.
The Boks dominated the lineouts, and scored two tries from this set piece in the first half. Other than that, the visitors struggled to gel, with passes missing the mark and tackles slipped with frightening regularity.
While this was to be expected given the fact that not one of the Bok combinations had featured at international level before, the inability to compete at the gainline was inexcusable.
There were a few exceptions. Janse van Rensburg carried the ball strongly throughout, and breached the Barbarians defence regularly. It was a determined performance by the Lions centre, and it’s hard to believe that he was not selected for the subsequent Tests against England, Italy and Wales.
The Boks have battled in midfield this season, and in the back row. Roelof Smit made some important turnovers in his own 22 on Saturday, but the loose trio as a combination were unconvincing.
Not for the first time this season, Oupa Mohoje failed to give the Boks the necessary go-forward. Nizaam Carr, who will remain with the Boks in the northern hemisphere for the coming Tests, delivered another disappointing physical performance.
The Barbarians worked tirelessly to secure the ball at the breakdowns and then stretch the Boks in the wider channels. South African flyhalf Rob du Preez was on point with his passing game, while fullback Melani Nanai and the hulking winger Taqele Naiyaravoro brought the Wembley crowd to its feet with their tackle-busting surges down the touchline.
The Barbarians’ second try was from turnover ball. Matt Faddes found his captain Andy Ellis with an inspired offload, and the Crusaders scrumhalf sprinted 40m to score.
And yet, it was the sight of Naiyaravoro in full flight that saw the spectators finding their voices at the end of the first half. The Waratahs winger bumped off several would-be tacklers, including his opposite number Sergeal Petersen to boost his side to a 17-12 lead on the stroke of half-time.
Petersen scored a try against the run of play in the 43rd minute. Unfortunately for the Boks, and for Petersen who had a forgettable afternoon aside from that score, it did not signal a shift in momentum.
The Barbarians continued to run at the Boks and continued to make metres against a limp and shapeless defence. Luke Morahan finished off a sweeping movement to regain the lead for his team. When the Boks launched an attack in the subsequent period, they were undone by their inferior work at the breakdown.
The Barbarians looked to play the bulk of the final quarter deep in the Boks’ half. Eventually the opportunity to strike on the right wing presented itself, and Morahan made it count. The replacement winger’s second try and Richie Mo’unga’s conversion took the Barbarians 12 points clear of the Boks with 13 minutes remaining.
A try by Francois Venter in the 71st minute provided the South Africans with some hope. Jamba Ulengo set the score up when he broke down the left wing and found Venter in support. Lambie added the extras to reduce the deficit to five points.
The Boks enjoyed another chance in the 77th minute. Fittingly, it was Janse van Rensburg who powered over in the right-hand corner. The Barbarians cover defence managed to get across, but could not force the young centre into touch.
Lambie, however, failed to add the extras from the touchline. The Barbarians had a chance to win the game at the death, but dropped the ball with the tryline in sight.
It was a big let-off for a Bok side that was second best on the day.
Barbarians – Tries: Melani Nanai, Andy Ellis, Taqele Naiyaravoro, Luke Morahan (2). Conversions: Rob du Preez, Richie Mo’unga (2).
Springboks – Tries: Pieter-Steph du Toit, Roelof Smit, Sergeal Petersen, Francois Venter, Rohan Janse van Rensburg. Conversions: Pat Lambie (3).
Baa-Baas – 15 Melani Nanai (Blues), 14 Matt Faddes (Highlanders), 13 Seta Tamanivalu (Crusaders), 12 Richard Buckman (Highlanders), 11 Taqele Naiyaravoro (Waratahs), 10 Robert du Preez (Stormers), 9 Andy Ellis (Crusaders, c), 8 Luke Whitelock (Highlanders), 7 Jordan Taufua (Crusaders), 6 Brad Shields (Hurricanes), 5 Michael Fatialofa (Hurricanes), 4 Martin Muller (Lions), 3 Paddy Ryan (Waratahs), 2 Akker van der Merwe (Lions), 1 Reggie Goodes (Hurricanes).
Subs: 16 Andrew Ready (Reds), 17 Schalk van der Merwe (Montpellier), 18 Toby Smith (Rebels), 19 Sam Carter (Brumbies), 20 Ruan Ackermann (Lions), 21 Nic Stirzaker (Rebels), 22 Richard Mo’unga (Crusaders), 23 Luke Morahan (Force).
Springboks – 15 Jesse Kriel, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Francois Venter, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Jamba Ulengo, 10 Pat Lambie (c), 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Roelof Smit, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 RG Snyman, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Lizo Gqoboka, 19 Trevor Nyakane, 19 Eben Etzebeth, 20 Jean-Luc du Preez, 21 Piet van Zyl, 22 Tian Schoeman, 23 Ruan Combrinck.
Photo: Craig Mercer/Getty Images