Cape Town – He was expected to be one of the vanguards of a new era for the Springboks, but somehow Frans Malherbe’s struggle in successive Test matches against Ireland sums up the unexpected list of problems facing coach Allister Coetzee.
The 25-year-old from Paarl toppled veteran workhorse Jannie du Plessis from the starting tighthead prop post even before RWC 2015 had run its course, and rightly so at the time as he was scrumming better, working significantly harder in general play and being less prone to disciplinary lapses.
As Du Plessis trotted off to a rugby sunset in France, Malherbe seemed to have a clear path to regular duty in the No 3 jersey in the cycle leading up to the next World Cup.
But his under-delivery has been so pronounced at both Newlands and now Emirates Airline Park that Lions anchorman Julian Redelinghuys – superior, though also not wholly convincing off the bench on Saturday – may well have nosed ahead of him for a start in Port Elizabeth.
Malherbe, so far in the series, has succumbed to the “Jannie virus” of incurring the wrath of the referee with poor technique on breakdown entries and other lapses, whilst his right shoulder has not provided nearly the level of solidity expected of him at scrum-time.
Currently a co-captain of the Stormers, the player is just not putting his much-touted intelligence to proper use, and his body language is oddly uneasy.
But as my ratings will help illustrate, Malherbe isn’t the only starting Bok flirting with demotion after the 32-26 escape from jail in Johannesburg: none of JP Pietersen, Duane Vermeulen, Francois Louw, Siya Kolisi, Tendai Mtawarira or Lwazi Mvovo (especially likely to face the chop) look appealing shoe-ins for Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.
Here’s how I rated the Boks out of 10 at Emirates Airline Park, after two viewings of the match:
Willie le Roux: 5
Far from flawless, and some rather aimless aspects to his first-half performance. But give him some credit: the fullback did feature much more strongly in the comeback surge, including beautiful teeing-up of Ruan Combrinck’s fairytale try on debut. Largely binned his lateral-running habit, too.
JP Pietersen: 4
This RWC 2007-winning survivor remains far off his known, game-breaking best. Not too many errors here, but going through the motions too often. Looks jaded.
Lionel Mapoe: 5
Delivery on sprightly Super Rugby 2016 form at higher level still awaited. But began to come into his own on attack once the backline looked closer to a Lions combo in second period.
Damian de Allende: 6
Seemed headed for another innocuous showing, including some bad missed tackles. But then exploded into life in dying stages, including remarkable twin-tackle bust-out to notch the Boks’ critical 75th-minute try. Was that the turning of a personal corner, perhaps?
Lwazi Mvovo: 3
Defence has never been his forte and the Irish had done their homework on that score, peppering his side of the park with high balls which he dealt with mostly lamentably. Will be very lucky to survive at No 11 this Saturday.
Elton Jantjies: 6
Again didn’t quite grab the game by the proverbial scruff, although some fine touches to confirm his ability. Place-kicking a little erratic, and infuriatingly failed to find touch with one penalty.
Faf de Klerk: 6.5
You don’t get a “Fourie du Preez” game manager; not yet anyway … but what you do get is abundant energy and stealth about the park. Continues to develop encouragingly at highest level.
Duane Vermeulen: 4
Considering his delayed start to the week’s training, should he even have played? Elbow heavily strapped early on; clearly a passenger thereafter. His least impactful half for Boks yet.
Siya Kolisi: 5
Occasional classy touches and moments of good alertness on defence. But continues to drift for unacceptably long periods … and had ball ripped out twice as well, which shouldn’t really happen to a blindside flanker.
Francois Louw: 5.5
One strong carry, and won a penalty with deft work at a breakdown, but otherwise labouring to deliver to own best levels. Coming off season’s end in England, and it shows.
Pieter-Steph du Toit: 7
Lood de Jager chose inconvenient time for injury: the Stormers man was the most consistently aggressive, direct and industrious Bok tight-fiver here. Always hell-bent on making yards … and deserved his barrelling try, with a little turbo-help from sub Franco Mostert.
Eben Etzebeth: 6.5
Still a tad off his A-game … but Etzebeth at B-plus is still a forceful contributor to any Test cause. Priceless, superbly-read lineout steal during Bok rearguard action, too.
Frans Malherbe: 4
See lament above …
Adriaan Strauss: 5
Only sneaks a borderline “pass mark” because he began to prosper with ball in hand as the game went on, and showed sound composure in decision-making when Boks seemed doomed. Otherwise, too clumsy in ball-carrying; scrummaging disappointing as well.
Tendai Mtawarira: 4.5
Seventy-seven caps now … and in too much of a comfort zone. Not a patch on the player who destroyed Phil Vickery, back in 2009. Stint on bench may just help awaken him?
Ruan Combrinck: 8
A close shave, but Combrinck’s timely sense of energy, purpose and hunger saw him pip his Lions skipper Warren Whiteley (both played the full second half) for the mantle of premier factor off the bench – the livewire wing capped a magnificent debut cameo with a powerfully-worked try.
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