South Africa
Jean de Villiers and Bryan Habana bring Springboks to life against World XV
Tom Hamilton
July 11, 2015
Bryan Habana
Bryan Habana© Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images

CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA -- It was the result the 27,891 shivering spectators expected. South Africa were always going to win this game, it was just a question of by how much. For coach Heyneke Meyer, it allowed him the chance to weigh up new combinations; for the World XV it gave the players an opportunity to play at Newlands, one of the world's most picturesque stadiums in what is a remarkable city.

As the clouds hugged the top of Table Mountain the game played out beneath it in daylight and ended in night. The game had a few moments of play which seemed fitting for this stadium which only one of the great impressionist painters could do justice.

In the press conference prior to the game, Meyer rejected the usual approach utilised by coaches when speaking about debutants, of talking about potential countered with the need for omnipresent focus. Instead he threw platitudes at Jesse Kriel's feet and issued his impassioned belief that he could become a great Springbok.

Though he has played virtually all his professional rugby at fullback for the Bulls, he was handed the outside berth for the game and his role in Eben Etzebeth's try was vindication for Meyer's gamble. His movement and perfectly timed pass eventually saw the ball recycled to allow the galloping lock enough space and time to go over.

While Kriel's performance would have pleased Meyer, the star of the show was one of Cape Town's own. Damien de Allende was exceptional at inside centre and caused the invitational side no end of bother. He scored their first and last tries with the latter a remarkable solo effort. He inevitably played a key role in anything the Springboks did well.

But just who will slot into the inside and outside centre berths for the Boks is something still which remains to be seen. Those are the current problem positions in international rugby. Only Wales and New Zealand, the former due to the absence of Jonathan Davies, have clear preferred partnerships - Jamie Roberts and Scott Williams for Wales, Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith for the All Blacks.

Though De Allende and Kriel started at Newlands, sitting on the bench was their captain and arguably first name on the team sheet, Jean de Villiers. After making the most Lazarus of recoveries from his career-threatening knee injury last December against Wales, he played 20 minutes on his home turf. Meyer said midweek there would not be a dry eye in the house when he took to the field and his part in Le Roux's third try dispelled any fears his knee would not be able to take the first tackle. De Villiers will now return to Currie Cup duties before playing a role in the latter stages of the Springboks' Rugby Championship campaign.

He will aim to prove age (he turned 34 in February) is no barrier to form and fitness ahead of the Rugby World Cup but in a game largely void of individual inspiration, Bryan Habana offered the box office moment of the match with his offload for Willie le Roux's second-half try. The winger was hauled down on the touchline but his pop-pass allowed the future Shark the freedom of Newlands to cross over.

Habana's place in the Springboks' XV is secure for the World Cup and Ruan Pienaar and Handre Pollard would have done their claims for the starting half-back spots no harm with commanding, precise performances.

For the World XV Craig Burden, one of eight Toulon players in their starting line-up, was their best player in a game which saw him score their sole try and an eye for open field. Fly-half Mike Harris will be hurting on Sunday as he found himself on the wrong end of some rampaging Springboks, as did Jordan Taufua, while Bakkies Botha managed just under 60 minutes in front of an adoring crowd.

Up next for the Springboks are Australia. Such is the scheduling headache of playing against opposition on the other side of the world, they will only muster a pair of training sessions before facing the Wallabies on Saturday in Brisbane. This team will have the odd tweak to selection but with a number of walking wounded still continuing their respective recoveries, the bulk of these players will be running out in the Suncorp Stadium in a week's time.

This was the prologue for the Boks. They can enjoy their victory in wonderful Cape Town, but as they well know, sterner tests are awaiting them in the coming weeks and months.

© Tom Hamilton

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