Bissie: Our wronged wonder
Romain Poite and Bismarck du Plessis (AFP)
Cape Town - It may sound just a little bizarre to heap strongest praise on the player who effectively cost the Springboks any chance of victory over the All Blacks at Eden Park on Saturday, but Bismarck du Plessis had seemed pretty promisingly en route to being South Africa’s best player until his unjust sidelining.
As it happened: All Blacks v Boks
His fire-and-brimstone night in the Castle Rugby Championship match was ruined by absurdly ill-judged refereeing from Romain Poite and his allies in officialdom, as two yellow cards for the robust but so seldom malicious hooker led to his enforced, permanent withdrawal from the fray desperately early in the second half and with the game probably up for grabs at that point.
The first yellow, in the 16th minute, was infuriating because his clattering tackle on Dan Carter was neither too high nor armless, and the follow-up one – forcing the obligatory red - which so violently altered the complexion of the game was notably border-line.
From the moment the largely law-abiding “mongrel” of Du Plessis was sacrificed (with deeper ramifications because it also meant the Boks needed a tactical re-shuffle that saw big Willem Alberts
substituted) the visitors were forced primarily into scrambling, back-foot mode and New Zealand, not world champions for nothing, ended up winning by the damaging 29-15 margin with a full house of five log points.
Rating the Boks under such circumstances is difficult, given the 14-man status they laboured with for the lion’s share of the Test: it is to their credit that they never allowed the
dam wall to completely crumble, isn’t it?Here’s how I rated the Bok starting XV:Zane Kirchner 5.5
Much was made of the fullback putting one over his critics in Brisbane last weekend, but this was a much less secure performance and will re-introduce debate about his right to the jersey. Did get rattled under pressure, even if no glaring errors. Good competing in air to aid Pat Lambie try.Willie le Roux 5.5
Not much room for the unpredictable fellow to strut his inventive stuff, and made some decision-making boo-boos. Neat little break late in second half.
JJ Engelbrecht 5.5
Another of those “jury’s out” games from the outside centre, though little opportunity to exhibit running skills given Bok staffing limitations for much of match. No notable defensive gremlins.Jean de Villiers 6.5
One or two assertive mini-runs and stays a formidable organiser at No 12. Kept his cool admirably as captain even as referee Poite must have invited him to pull his blond hair out several times. Victim of cynical shoulder-charge from Ma’a Nonu, a serial offender in that regard.Bryan Habana 5.5
Full-blooded, as always, when called into action, though not a lot of play came his way. One courageous turnover, but will also be remembered for costly misdirected kick.Morné Steyn 6
Some critics felt he was ropey here, but if he missed some tackles I also thought he made some slightly unsung ones! Not his best game off the tee, but does seem intent on restoring some sparkle to his attacking play - deft cross-kick to set up late Lambie try.Ruan Pienaar 5
Began fairly promisingly with some authoritative tactical kicking ... but slipped a little down the hill thereafter, perhaps inevitably as under-staffed Bok pack in front of him felt gradual heat. Defence remains suspect, and could be more physically assertive on occasions when it is needed. Duane Vermeulen 7
Yes, Kieran Read was rather effective too! But at the same time, Vermeulen can hold his head very high – especially given adverse circumstances against his team – for his own No 8 game. Grittily committed throughout, and only keeps growing into role as a now regular Bok starter.
Willem Alberts 6.5
The Bone Collector was just starting to run brutally onto some “popped” balls and broadly impose himself when he was victim of a necessary change of battle-plan after the Bismarck Affair, and had to be pulled off.Francois Louw 6
Businesslike, for sure, but also not one of his better Tests after a fine run of performances this year, and suffered like so many team-mates for the man-down inconvenience. Handling and passing let him down a tad here, though was at fulcrum of Bok lineout maul for first try.
Flip van der Merwe 6
Promising early poach off Sam Whitelock’s finger-tips, and was grafting hard to impose himself before his unfortunate leg injury just before half-time; sadly he did not emerge from tunnel for second half.
Eben Etzebeth 6.5
Spilled an early lineout ball, and sometimes suspiciously could not seem to get off the ground in this phase -- clearly NZ know his rich value and served up some quiet spoiling
against him. But mostly rock-solid on own-ball take, plus huge heart as usual in the open-play battle.Jannie du Plessis 4.5
Good enough day again at the scrummaging office ... but there is a growing problem with his tackling limitations, liability in the “penalties against” department and general air of lethargy outside set-piece play. Bismarck du Plessis 7.5
I simply refuse to downgrade his rating, given the sidelining injustice he so barely deserved. While in the action, simply a picture of power and energy, winning those “stand-up”, wrestled turnovers in his unique way and getting right into All Black faces. Fine mobility and speed, too.
Tendai Mtawarira 6.5
Put down a big marker against Owen Franks in a couple of early scrums, popping the revered tighthead once, and hardly lacked grunt in mauling play.
A known world-class performer himself, Adriaan Strauss
put himself about admirably after the exit of Du Plessis, whilst Pat Lambie, in much shorter time on the park, did
wonderfully well to keep his wits about him to dot the second Bok try ... each rates a very solid 6.5 in my book.*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing