This was the SA ‘A’ the Lions expected to trounce in Cape Town and this SA ‘A’ was nothing compared to the Springboks who played as SA ‘A’ earlier in the week. Kudos Jake White’s Bulls for showing up the gulf in class between the Test probables and the Test possibles, writes Oliver Keohane.
The difference in class was obvious from the get go, but it was affirmed on Saturday afternoon as a classy display from the newly arrived Johan Goosen guided Jake’s White’s Bulls to a 17-13 win over SA A.
In January I wrote that Goosen’s (then) imminent return to South Africa, coupled with Morne Steyn’s twilight form, flipped the flyhalf fortunes for South Africa. Steyn was subsequently included in the Springbok squad for the British & Irish Lions series, and started for a Bok-laden SA ‘A’ team that downed the Lions 17-13 earlier in the week in their first taste of proper international rugby. On Saturday afternoon Goosen made a statement in his man of the match performance that there is still much Test rugby left in his 28 year old body.
Goosen, who has been playing at 13 outside fellow ‘former’ Springbok Jan Serfontein for Montepellier, was backed by Bulls Director of Rugby Jake White to start at flyhalf in the hastily organised game between SA ‘A’ and the Bulls, to make up for the Springboks’ cancelled second test against Georgia.
The Bulls emerged the more clinical side in an affair that was chaotic and unpleasant on the eye for not only a rugby fan, but the South African supporter looking to this game for further preface to the three Test series. Don’t worry too much South Africa, the side that just lost 17-14 to the Bulls, in Cape Town, is a far shout from the first choice 23 that will face the British & Irish Lions at the same venue in a week’s time.
It wasn’t a good game. What was good though, was the immediate effect of Johan Goosen.
Goosen, since Springbok debut, has been reminiscent of a young Francois Steyn: A fantastic fullback, equally capable at wing or centre, but mercurial at flyhalf and with a massive boot.
In his first game back in South Africa, Goosen gave viewers a display of every gift that granted him a Springbok call up at 20 years old. His service was good, his running lines calculated and effective, in synchronisation with his boot, and his speed off the mark showed again how hard it is to defend against a flyhalf with the swerve and pace of an outside back.
As is often the case, Goosen’s statistics didn’t do justice to the subtle but integral contribution that he made. His stats read 3 carries, 3 gain lines successes, 27 running meters and nine tackles. The story they didn’t tell is of the try-assist that put the Bulls in the position to win the game, his perfect service from first receiver and his absolute control of a Bulls backline that wouldn’t break.
SA ‘A’s offering is an unpleasant site for South African rugby supporters, but Goosen’s control of the victorious Bulls should give comfort to the long-term investor in South African rugby.
Aside from mercurial moments, this game between the Bulls and SA ‘A’ was characterised by contact and chaos and littered with errors. Neither team looked comfortable, but it was to be expected after the high of SA ‘A’ (AKA the Springboks’) victory over the British & Irish Lions on Wednesday, and the nature of a game whenever South African goes up against South African.
Take comfort in the fact that Johan Goosen sent a timely reminder of his Test-match quality, and take comfort in the fact that Saturday’s SA ‘A’ is far from the first choice world champion Springbok side waiting to tame the Lions.
Also read: Springbok flyhalf fortunes are flipping: