Cape Town – He was a Wounded Warrior going into the Test ...
though you might never have guessed it if you’d been unaware of that fact in
Touch and go to start right up to a few minutes before
kick-off at Ellis Park on Saturday, Duane Vermeulen nevertheless threw himself
at New Zealand with unrelenting gusto and passion as the Springboks brought the
world champions’ undefeated run of 22 matches to a halt with a heart-stopping
27-25 victory in the Castle Rugby Championship clash.
The barnstorming, unyielding No 8 earned the official
player-of-the-match mantle in the campaign-ending thriller, and few could have
quibbled with the choice under the circumstances.
But Vermeulen inspired plenty of colleagues around him, and
on the Sport24 performance card he shared eight-out-of-10 status with three
other Boks: two-try wunderkind Handre Pollard, Francois Hougaard and Jan
Here’s how I rated
the Boks out of 10:
Willie le Roux: 6.5
Solid, composed outing and largely avoided any “moggy”
moments in this Test. Tactical kicking and general decision-making fairly
decent, and timely defensive contributions.
Cornal Hendricks: 6
The anonymous little periods he goes through are almost a
ruse: when he’s suddenly on or near the ball things just seem to happen. Always
a threat in broken play and on the counter. Found Julian Savea a handful when
All Blacks pressed, but who doesn’t?
Jan Serfontein: 8
Has chopped his locks ... but still a Samson in Bok
midfield. Like an extra loose forward at many breakdowns, decisive tackling and
fine pass off the floor to facilitate first Bok try.
Jean de Villiers: 6
Pretty busy day in his channel, with Malakai Fekitoa always
looking to make yardage for NZ, and made plenty of tackles while guilty of a
howler or two, as well. Lovely grubber in build-up to first Bok try, and pipped
by centimetre by scrambling Conrad Smith to own five-pointer on one occasion.
Bryan Habana: 7
His early poach laid down marker for Bok turnover zeal and
polish: SA won this phase 14-8 according to TV stats. Storming run in lead-up
to second Bok try and continued to look for graft throughout.
Handre Pollard: 8
Two Tests against the All Blacks, two hugely satisfying
showings from a 20-year-old flyhalf. It says so much about Pollard’s
international potential for the coming years. Here, he will be remembered for
his vital brace of tries, combining flair and awareness with the extra gift of
power. Did fluff one or two place- and line-kicks, but right now ... who cares?
Francois Hougaard: 8
How amazingly the scrumhalf has reinvented himself over the
last two Saturdays. Lively and enterprising game, including blistering pace and
verve to run away for thrilling, opening Bok try from deep. Always up for
making tigerish hits, as well.
Duane Vermeulen: 8
It’s not every day that a player entering the game with an injury
can manage to (narrowly, mind) outplay Kieran Read: yet he did. Another
thunderous, ferociously committed outing – extraordinarily, for a “full 80” --
from arguably the most consistent individual player of the 2014 Rugby
Oupa Mohoje: 7
Good to see his blossoming lineout talent put to good use in
this Test; two clean takes in quick succession. Won a pair of turnovers in his
50-minute shift, and carried assuredly.
Marcell Coetzee: 7
If you didn’t always see him, it may well have been because
he was so deep-rooted in aggressive, effective SA approach to breakdown. Once
brought a sniping Fekitoa to a key, jarring halt.
Victor Matfield: 6
Significantly quieter than his pleasing Newlands game
against Aussies. Put pressure on NZ lineout, though Sam Whitelock was
bothersome on the veteran Bok’s ball as well. Still a sound, calming influence
when heat is on.
Eben Etzebeth: 6
Good fire in belly, as you’d expect on such an occasion.
Direct going forward, sometimes vitally alert on defence, though some lapses in
that department too. Giddy form of last two years still not quite recaptured
Jannie du Plessis:
Tackling technique still open to scrutiny; just seems to
“snatch” too often at players although he’s trying hard to up work-rate outside
scrums. Conceded silly ruck-entry penalty with Boks right on attack.
Bismarck du Plessis:
Exactly the sort of hard-nosed player you want asserting
himself quickly ... and that’s what he did. Upper-body strength put to vital
use. One errant lineout throw in his 53 minutes, but then replacement Adriaan
Strauss suffered two.
Tendai Mtawarira: 7
Much more like it from the Beast ... one big, speedy carry
that had the crowd purring, solid at scrum-time and worked tirelessly on
defence and at breakdowns.
Pat Lambie: 7
Earns the mantle by a whisker from Schalk Burger ... primarily
on the grounds of that sweetest, most composed of thumps under intense pressure
from 50-plus metres to win the match off the penalty tee.
*Follow our chief
writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing