Cape Town – If the Springboks hope to retain their Rugby World Cup title, they will have to do it with their current squad after a number of Test hopefuls failed to impress for South Africa A in their 26-18 defeat to the Bristol Bears on Thursday night.
It was a night to forget for the visitors as a number of unforced errors with ball-in-hand contributed to a lacklustre performance at Ashton Gate stadium.
Initially, SA A appeared to be caught between game-plans as they showed promise by holding onto possession, with some classy touches from flyhalf Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu and hard running from veteran centre Cornal Hendricks.
But there were a number of up-and-unders as well, which wasted several counter-attacking opportunities.
It was almost as if SA A were employing the traditional Bok Test tactics instead of playing in the spirit of a tour game by having a go at their opponents.
Those tactics meant that the likes of Grant Williams, Leolin Zas, Suleiman Hartzenberg, Henco van Wyk and Gianni Lombard hardly had a chance to show what they could do to put the Bristol defence under pressure.
And the few times that they actually got inside the Bristol half, it was either a knock-on, poor lineout throw or a turnover at the breakdown that halted their momentum.
Their only real positive was their lineout mauls as they made good progress upfield, while loosehead prop Ntuthuko Mchunu was one of the few SA A players to enhance his reputation with a busy display.
Mchunu carried the ball strongly, scrummed well and did his bit in defence too, and he finished off a solid evening with a well-taken try.
SA A weren’t helped by lock Jason Jenkins’ yellow card in the 15th minute for a dangerous tackle on Bristol No 8 Fitz Harding – which took nearly 10 minutes to happen due to a delay with the TV visuals.
The visitors were able to take a 6-3 lead via two Feinberg-Mngomezulu penalties, but after the half-hour mark, the Bears took control as wing Gabriel Ibitoye grabbed the opening try following a superb inside pass from Australian fullback Luke Morahan.
— Bristol Bears 🐻 (@BristolBears) November 17, 2022
SA A had a chance to level matters just before the break as they got within a few metres of the tryline, but flank Marco van Staden lost the ball forward.
The errors continued piling up in the second half, with Feinberg-Mngomezulu missing touch twice from penalties and sliding a conversion wide, while also having another kick charged-down, and fullback Lombard and wing Hartzenberg endured some nervy moments too.
SA A stayed in the game when they finally got a few phases together, with Mchunu charging around the corner of a ruck to score and reduce the deficit to 13-11.
But Bristol flyhalf Callum Sheedy maintained his consistency at goal in slotting four penalties and two conversions, with prop Yann Thomas’ five-pointer near the hour-mark securing the victory.
— Springboks (@Springboks) November 17, 2022
A late Sikhumbuzo Notshe was nothing more than a consolation effort, and SA A coach Mzwandile Stick would have been disappointed with the performance, considering that they had more time to find better cohesion following last week’s 28-14 loss to Munster in Cork.
Bristol Bears 26 – Tries: Gabriel Ibitoye, Yann Thomas. Conversions: Callum Sheedy (2). Penalties: Sheedy (4).
South Africa A 18 – Tries: Ntuthuko Mchunu, Sikhumbuzo Notshe. Conversion: Johan Goosen (1). Penalties: Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu (2).