Springboks

Cheetahs fliers to Bok rescue!

2014-06-21 22:43
Hendricks and Le Roux (Gallo Images)
Cape Town – The strong presence in an attacking capacity of slippery Cheetahs customers Willie le Roux and still-rookie Cornal Hendricks helped stave off a first-time Wales Test victory in South Africa at Mbombela Stadium on Saturday.

Officially, the man-of-the-match mantle went to No 8 Duane Vermeulen, who was a committed presence to the end -- even if he has also played several better games for his country – in a nostalgic return to Nelspruit, town of his birth.

But it was perhaps debatable that the award should go to a member of a Springbok pack allowed desperately little of the free rein it had enjoyed in the first Test in Durban a week earlier, and often placed severely under the cosh by a tide of red jerseys in the nail-biter.

On this writer’s card, it would have been a dead heat between livewire backline players Le Roux and Hendricks for standout Boks on a day when infuriating mistakes across the park made the home-town task so much harder and few stalwarts played to normal standards.

Here’s how I rated the Boks out of 10:

Willie le Roux: 7.5
Yes, there were gremlins on this occasion by the fullback talisman, too. But he was also so often the playmaker-in-chief of Bok attacking initiatives: scored a vital late try with ghosting incision, and had set up Hendricks’ thrilling first-half touchdown with final pass in long-range raid.

Cornal Hendricks: 7.5
Only his second full-scale Test match, remember, and every time he was on the ball, it looked as though something might happen; sign of a quality wing. Almost a fairytale finish at corner flag for him, had it not been for cynical shoulder charge that bundled him into touch (at least award of penalty try made Morne Steyn’s conversion a doddle!). Some rough edges, but the more games he gets ...

JP Pietersen: 6.5
Got “bounced” once by big George North, and annoyingly dropped one in-field pass from Bryan Habana, but then his game stiffened nicely. Key yards over advantage line in build-up to Hendricks’ try.  

Jan Serfontein: 6.5
Another fantastic learning experience at inside centre on often-harrowing Bok day. But came through it well; very adhesive on defence.

Bryan Habana: 6.5
Always looked for work, although fewer stretch-the-legs chances came his way than had occurred in Durban. Experience and calmness helped the Bok comeback.   

Morne Steyn: 5.5
Sometimes luck didn’t go his way, like just overcooking one shrewd, attempted touch-finder after altering direction of play. But when Boks are under pressure, his defence gets tested and it doesn’t always convince.

Fourie du Preez: 6
Bit naughty to take quick tap at one stage in second half when three points looked relative formality and his decision brought no fruit. Still not the “FDP” of old, but brings good decision-making at key times and a fast pass.

Duane Vermeulen: 7
Certainly wasn’t all plain sailing for him initially. As rattled as anyone by early Welsh blitz; missed a tackle here and there and dropped a pass. But has a great engine and it was crucially still firing right at death.

Willem Alberts: 6
Didn’t collect too many bones as Welsh tore into Boks in first quarter, but forced off field soon after that so can’t be judged too harshly.

Francois Louw: 6.5
Stuck to his lines, which was more than could be said for others as Wales dominated initial collisions and he found himself isolated at times in stemming tide. Tackled fiercely and had one good rampage with ball in hand.

Victor Matfield: 7
Became most capped Springbok ever and the veteran produced fitting enough display to mark it. Wales did everything they could, fair or foul, to dilute his lineout mastery and he won penalties as result. One great back-tracking tackle when Welsh try threatened strongly.

Flip van der Merwe: 5.5
Not all will agree, but his yellow card (not first of career) seemed just about justified to me and came at critical, potentially hugely costly juncture with SA already 10 points down. Mind you, when he was back the scrum solidified anew after period of great angst.

Jannie du Plessis: 6
At risk of my sounding like stuck record, the scrum anchorman is glaringly tired from over-use. But Bok scrum woe came mostly after his exit in 58th minute, and while out there he had busied himself on defence.

Bismarck du Plessis: 6
The hooker is also running on reserve tank. Fair enough game, with a couple of valuable steals, but some inaccuracies as well.

Tendai Mtawarira: 6
Possibility existed early on that he might do a destructive “Vickery” on direct opponent Samson Lee at scrum time. But then the threat rather fizzled ...
Standout substitute:

Schalk Burger: 7
On after just 25 minutes through injury to a so-so Alberts, Burger’s consistently high work-rate significantly aided the Boks’ get-out-of-jail trick.

Schalk Brits and Gurthro Steenkamp also added some zest when it was needed much later on, but Coenie Oosthuizen’s suitability to tighthead will remain very much up for debate after this awkward stint ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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