Cape Town – You have to be cautious, I suppose, in handing out mass laurels to a Test team who suffer a home defeat.
But to hell with convention.
Considering the lead-up circumstance, including that 0-57 nightmare against the very same All Blacks not far back at all, the Springboks emerged as narrowly-trumped heroes against the world champions at Newlands here on Saturday.
They contributed wholesomely to a 2017 rugby classic, earning rare but justified levels of applause as 25-24 losers in the Castle Rugby Championship fixture.
It is no disgrace to lose to these sublime New Zealanders, who sometimes seem as good at cool-headedly winkling out wins from tight scraps as they are in running more notably amok at times.
Powered by the fuel of redemption, the Boks gave it their all, and then some, with no one better in the home ranks than their 23-year-old hooker Malcolm Marx, who outplayed rightly-touted opposite number Dane Coles in the Test match of his life.
A snorting Eben Etzebeth wasn’t far behind, with strong ticks on the Sport24 card also going to the likes of Pieter-Steph du Toit, Jan Serfontein and Steven Kitshoff.
Here’s how I rated the Boks out of 10 at Newlands:
Andries Coetzee: 6
Made up in pure commitment, throughout, what he continues to come up short for in X-factor. Some nice advances in limited space. One hoist went well too deep, and his missed touch led to an unusually extended, fatiguing passage of play after the siren for half-time.
Dillyn Leyds: 5.5
Not as prominent as he was on starting debut against Australia last week. Lost a ball forward, and had some positional angst at times, but also won at least two aerial one-on-ones.
Jesse Kriel: 6.5
Made some of the most critical, properly “stopping” tackles when the Boks were hard-pressed deep in their own territory, including a try-saver on muscular Rieko Ioane, right on the line.
Jan Serfontein: 7
Still looks “down” a bit more than “up” in attacking moves, but overall this was a very satisfying match for the inside centre. Put his body on the line, often crashing the ball up, helped secure a maul hold-up and had his moments of real skill and elusiveness in wider areas.
Courtnall Skosan: 6
Has enduring drawbacks, but lacked nothing in heart and effort in this Test. Made a key tackle on slippery Beauden Barrett, and his firm but legal hit on Nehe Milner-Skudder led to the dangerous All Black’s exit with a shoulder/upper arm injury.
Elton Jantjies: 5
Sometimes he just seems to get a bit “engulfed” in matches against quality outfits, and this was one of them, by my book. Some good touches, but his charged-down kick also led to a costly try concession. Still too deep-lying?
Ross Cronje: 5.5
His intercepted pass, sadly, went a long way to tilting the tense encounter as powerhouse wing Ioane roared away for a long-range try roughly on the hour-mark. The scrumhalf mixed efficiency with frustratingly errant moments. Great first-half snipe, but then he failed to get a pass off with a try beckoning. Good composure in dotting his try on the base of the right upright.
Francois Louw: 6
Not sure if No 8 will be revisited in his Test career; there were certain lapses in his defensive concentration, and handling. But also plenty of unsung, yeoman spadework at close quarters.
Pieter-Steph du Toit: 7.5
Well, the No 5 lock has now started three Tests as a blindside flank and lost all three. But that’s a cruel fact to introduce, as he was largely excellent here. Won early penalty after a pick-and-go and that really set tone for his bone-crunching, stamina-laden display and great nuisance value at breakdowns.
Siya Kolisi: 6
Began like a house on fire, with fierce cleaning-out and support runs. One magical back-of-hand pass in an attacking raid. Must bear some responsibility, perhaps, as open-sider for Boks surrendering some costly turnovers.
Lood de Jager: 6.5
Still not quite matching up to his RWC 2015 prowess, but very positive signs of return to standards all the same. Honest shift, including admirably high tackle count.
Eben Etzebeth: 8.5
Arguably his personal game of the season, and one that largely restored his credibility as an acting captain of the Boks, given how royally he led from the trenches. Made a series of freight-train charges, including bouncing burly Scott Barrett backwards once. Commanding at lineouts, into bargain.
Ruan Dreyer: 5
Hindsight an easy science, but shouldn’t young Wilco Louw have started at No 3 instead? Once again, the Lions tighthead proved a penalty liability at scrum-time -- despite a couple of good ones as well, it must be said.
Malcolm Marx: 9
Simply monstrous; the individual performance of the Bok season thus far. Would have been a shoe-in for player-of-match mantle had he been on the winning side. The Lions hooker rampaged from start to finish, driving forcefully (including for so-deserved try), doing muscular defensive duty and being deadly over the ball. Won two penalties.
Steven Kitshoff: 7
This was his well overdue, maiden start in his 19th Test match … and the flame-haired loose-head duly delivered a consistently lively 77 minutes. Solid at set-piece, industrious elsewhere and one or two spirited carries that sucked in defenders. Won breakdown penalty, too.
Handre Pollard: 6.5
This was a close-run thing, because others off the splinters like Jean-Luc du Preez, Franco Mostert and debutant Wilco Louw also kept the Bok fire burning brightly. But the seemingly revitalised pivot, much-maligned earlier this season, brought welcome directness and some deft touches in the 18 minutes he got before disappearing down the tunnel late, apparently for a concussion-related evaluation.
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing