Business Day (Johannesburg)

South Africa: 'Shocking' Anthem Contributed to Bok Defeat, Says Botha

Johannesburg — LEGENDARY Springbok flyhalf Naas Botha yesterday urged the government to get involved in the "national anthem disaster" during Friday's Test against France in Toulouse, saying someone had to be taken to task for the shambles.

The Springboks were greeted before the Test with a pathetic national anthem in which the singer, Durban-born Ras Dumisani, did not know a few of the words and was constantly off-tune.

The incident infuriated Bok coach Peter de Villiers, while some of the players battled to prevent bursting out with laughter during what was supposed to be an emotional moment. Botha believes the "shocking" anthem undoubtedly contributed to the team's 20-13 defeat.

"It was sad that we lost the game," said Botha. "But after that absolute disaster of a national anthem, everything went wrong. It was shocking and definitely didn't assist in creating a calm atmosphere for the team, as it should have. Someone has to be taken to task for this disaster. The government should assist in getting to the bottom of this. If it is the South African embassy's fault, action has to be taken against them; and if it is the French Rugby Union's fault, they need to apologise."

Botha attributed the defeat to the Springboks' inability to retain possession on attack, committing too few players to the breakdowns, poor tactical kicking and wrong decision- making in some instances.

"I think they (France) caught us off-guard with their physicality and it confused us for a while," said Botha. "The fact that we kept kicking the ball infield rather than out of touch did not help much either with all the pressure they were applying.

"We had a few good chances during the game, but we lost the ball too much and we didn't get enough players to the breakdowns."

Despite the loss, Botha was confident the Boks would bounce back in the next two Tests against Italy and Ireland. But he admitted they would face a tougher challenge against the determined Italy side than initially anticipated after witnessing their respectable 20-6 defeat against New Zealand on Saturday.

"Sport gives you a chance seven days later to make up for what went wrong the previous week," said Botha. "I believe this team is good enough and has the skills to take the spoils in Udine on Saturday. We just have to ensure that we are creative in the way we play. One defeat does not mean that the Boks are suddenly a bad team. They have had a fantastic year and no matter how they do in Europe, 2009 will remain a good year for them. Italy will be a tough team to beat after watching them play against the All Blacks, so we need to be ready for that."

Following the inconsistent calls at scrum time in the Springbok and Italy clashes at the weekend, Botha suggested that penalties should be converted to free kicks for offences in the set piece as a solution to ensure the scrums become more consistent. He said for many referees the scrum had become a guessing game.

"I agree with New Zealand coach Graham Henry that there is something wrong with the scrum rules. Some referees know very little about what happens in the scrum. If penalties are eliminated in that area and free kicks awarded instead, I think the players might scrummage correctly. But at the moment they are milking it for penalties."

He also recommended a global rugby season to avoid the problem with the midyear and November tours in which the southern hemisphere teams dominate in the June Tests, while the northern hemisphere teams dominate in November when their players are fresh.

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