Cape Town – Eben Etzebeth, one of the Springbok finds of the two-year Heyneke Meyer coaching tenure thus far, watched the World XV match at Newlands in his blazer from the stands on Saturday.
As it happened: Boks v World XV
The young dynamo remains a long shot at best to feature in the latter part of the June Test window – two against Wales, one against Scotland – as he recovers from long-term injury.
So it was seriously gratifying from a Bok point of view to see evergreen Bakkies Botha produce a snorting performance in the No 4 jersey that earned him both the official man-of-the-match mantle and top tally on the Sport24 report card in the eventually comprehensive 47-13 triumph.
Botha certainly quelled any doubt, back in tandem with old second-row hunting partner and acting captain Victor Matfield, about his credentials to start against the Welsh in Durban next weekend.
Here’s how I rated a Bok team who struggled to establish a first-half grip but then warmed increasingly to the demolition job:
Willie le Roux: 7.5
Whenever the Boks counter-attack unexpectedly or work designated attacking moves, it’s uncanny how often Le Roux manages to be a central, space-creating player. Did so again in this game, and fielded some tricky high balls well in the blustery wind too.
Cornal Hendricks: 6.5
Obviously still wet behind ears, but the debutant probably exceeded expectations. A couple of wicked stepping moments, good general work-rate and seemingly strong temperament.
JP Pietersen: 6
Hmm ... jury’s out on his suitability to midfield. Struggled to impose himself, and may well return to wing as Boks switch to orthodox Test mode next week. Still, one magic moment with cheeky through-the-legs pass in move that led to first home try.
Frans Steyn: 6
Not bad, not great either: put his strong physique on the line defensively but, like several Sharks Boks at present, is also showing understandable signs of mental staleness after so many consecutive weeks of Super Rugby.
Bryan Habana: 7
Busy and eager, as ever, with some incisive flashes. Handled twice in SA’s slick approach work to Botha’s first-half touchdown.
Morne Steyn: 5.5
Did little glaringly wrong ... yet also managed little in constructive terms in his supposedly playmaking slot and just seems too much like the conservative “fallback guy” at No 10.
Ruan Pienaar: 5.5
Frustrating lack of urgency and sparkle, not for the first time in his Test career at scrumhalf. Kicking game reasonable. Boks went up a gear when veteran Fourie du Preez replaced him in 50th minute.
Duane Vermeulen: 7.5
Big No 8 has been building good head of steam in recent weeks, and carried that momentum into this fixture. Strong tackles, high energy, always muscular in mauling play. Got involved in some niggle towards end ... perhaps sign of how he got under World XV skins?
Willem Alberts: 6
Unacceptably anonymous for large tracts of Boks’ scrappy first period. But was certainly one to lift own game after break, including good takes at front of lineout and – like Vermeulen – a rolling-maul menace.
Francois Louw: 6.5
Sets high standards for himself, so this wasn’t his best Bok game; one or two missed tackles. Solid enough, though: was blocked by referee as he tried to help prevent first (and only) World XV try, and did make presence felt at breakdown.
Victor Matfield: 6.5
Calm leadership, as he oversaw Boks’ turnaround from scratchy start, perhaps more of a feature than really special personal play. But lineout banker as usual and showed fantastic pace on defence once to make a firm tackle.
Bakkies Botha: 8
Absolutely bristled with (constructive, mostly) aggression and industry, particularly in first half hour or so when he was one of relatively few Boks to get his engine going properly. So deserved his popular try on 33 minutes after some bright hand-to-hand play.
Jannie du Plessis: 5
Bad day at the office: your tighthead is usually culpable if the scrum is struggling ... and, worryingly, it was. Boks played second fiddle to hastily-cobbled World XV pack and gave away many penalties in the phase. Must be a weary horse, mind you ...
Bismarck du Plessis: 6
About as indifferent a first 40 minutes as you will see from the Sharks skipper, who so seldom has a bad outing for his country. But then his pride commendably took over, and he improved vastly. Unstoppable ball-carrier in two mauled Bok tries.
Tendai Mtawarira: 5.5
Did his clean-out and tackle work with typical honesty, but few destructive “Beeeast!” carries, and like Du Plessis has had much better days at scrum time.
Lwazi Mvovo: 7.5
Only got some 11 minutes towards the end -- but example of how to make limited time count. Looked electric in two terrific breakouts, one of which ended with clever infield off-load to Le Roux for Boks’ elegant final try. Schalk Burger and Fourie du Preez also made a difference when infused off bench.
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