Boks: Etzebeth gave his all
Eben Etzebeth (Gallo Images)
Cape Town – Many Springbok fans will struggle to find it real consolation in the immediate aftermath of another defeat to the All Blacks, but one of their most promising young players for the World Cup 2015 assault stood up to be counted at Ellis Park on Saturday.As it happened: Boks v NZ
He already seems a relative veteran given his high tally of caps in two seasons thus far, but remember that fiery second-row forward Eben Etzebeth still only turns 22 at the end of this month.
And Etzebeth simply underlined in the breathless, high-calibre Castle Rugby Championship decider what an awesome player and physical specimen he will be for the English-hosted event two years up the road.
Here’s how I rated the losing Boks, who defended way below normal standards – their most costly shortcoming on the day -- but nevertheless didn’t die whimpering in the Big Smoke ...
Zane Kirchner 6
It was a little cruel for spectators to pointedly start chanting Pat Lambie’s name before the Sharks man replaced the starting fullback late on anyway. Kirchner made a key, kick-out-on-the-full error on the hour mark which led to a NZ try, but previously had played with welcome positive intent and constructive enough energy. Willie le Roux 7
Here’s another player who seems sure to be a provider of necessary X-factor for the Boks at the next RWC jamboree: he was at the fulcrum of many attacks, either with ball in hand or wicked little kicks and with some luck and a wee bit more composure might have had a hat-trick of personal tries rather than just one.JJ Engelbrecht 6.5
The outside centre, who had been an injury doubt right up to the Friday practice, was slippery and very involved in much Bok front-foot stuff during the first half. Receded as the All Blacks took charge, with a missed tackle or two and some sloppy execution.Jean de Villiers 8
What a dynamo once again! Little blame can go his personal way in the taxing No 12 channel for any of the defensive frailty and inaccuracy that cost the Boks dearly here, and he was responsible for some exhilarating runs as well as powering over for his 58th-minute try. Not something everyone holds dear, but tops for diplomacy and sportsmanship in his leadership role as well. Bryan Habana 8
The veteran wing was buzzing as only he can as an attacking factor until his evening was cruelly cut short in just the 22nd minute – with two high-tempo tries already to his name. Occasional defensive question marks, maybe, before his sad exit.Morne Steyn 6.5
Not always appreciated enough for his passing game, which was strong in the lead-up to a few Bok tries; effective link man here. Memorable moment when he “bounced” big Brodie Retallick, too! Did leave a few points behind off the tee, and some doubts still swirl over his defending.Fourie du Preez 7
One or two strange, ill-advised options from the seasoned No 9, but few could doubt that since his return the pace and range of his pass and broad vision has revitalised Bok backline play. Duane Vermeulen 7
It is no disgrace to be slightly outplayed by the sublime Kieran Read, and he was. But that didn’t mean Vermeulen didn’t have his own spells of excellence, including wonderful rampage to set up Habana’s first try. Always grafts phenomenally hard, but some high-ball fumbles and defensive indecision.
Willem Alberts 6.5
Perhaps too easily fended off by Read in lead-up to visitors’ first try, but the big bruiser was aiding Bok pack dominance in first half, before being stretchered off on stroke of halftime – has a bit of an injury jinx in Tests at this ground.
Francois Louw 6.5
Not bad at all by the hugely dependable open-sider, but has also had more consistently forceful Test matches. Fewer pilfers than usual, but responsible for beautiful off-load for second Habana touch-down.
Juandre Kruger 4.5
Fail! Yes, he is meant to be more of a run-around athlete as No 5, but glaringly just not physical enough when forceful clean-outs are so obviously required. Boks missed Flip van der Merwe in this shirt. Poor game at restart collections, too.Eben Etzebeth 8.5
By contrast in the second row, magnificent: major lineout force, ferocious as ball-carrier – including one blistering sprint down left touchline soon after break – and made some vital tackles when Boks were under cosh, most notably a couple in quick succession on a charging Ma’a Nonu.Jannie du Plessis 6
Normal service from the tighthead: or read, source of good scrum stability in his important slot, but again falling short for mobility and work-rate about the park with poor tackle technique apparent.Bismarck du Plessis 6.5
Very, very debatably subbed at 50th minute, just as he was starting to come alive at hooker. Bok scrum certainly went fatally a bit south when front row was wholly changed. That said, quiet by his high standards in first-half open play.
Tendai Mtawarira 6.5
Playing his 50th Test, the popular loosehead put in an assertive shift at the scrumming office before making way for Gurtho Steenkamp on 53 minutes. Might have done better in trying to stop Liam Messam for his highly inconvenient try right on halftime.Standout substituteSiya Kolisi 6.5
This was not the best game for genuine impact off the Bok bench, even with two injury-enforced substitutions before first half had run its course. Too few reserves added oomph, although Kolisi was probably the best of them for his 41 minutes of activity, including an amazing, try-saving smother of Ma’a Nonu right beneath the Bok posts. *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing