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Bok ratings: Oldies strike back

2015-09-26 22:15
Fourie du Preez (Gallo Images)
Birmingham – Halt the funeral plan ... some of the most seasoned Springbok warhorses aren’t dead yet.

South Africa struck back with brutal control, physical relish and eventually some sparkle too, as they trounced Samoa 46-6 in their World Cup Pool B fixture at Villa Park here on Saturday.

There was commitment and rich industry across the park from the Boks, and whilst several up-and-coming players certainly didn’t shirk their duties, this pleasing bounce-back occasion will be remembered primarily for a handful of oft-pilloried veterans putting one across the bows of their critics.

Members of the 2007 RWC-winning Springbok squad rose to the assignment with special splendour: scrumhalf Fourie du Preez rolled back the clock to remind of the qualities that punctuated his heyday, Victor Matfield lifted his game immeasurably and JP Pietersen – who got the party started with his opportunist intercept try – eventually bagged a hat-trick as he showed the finishing qualities of a football striker at the famous old English Premiership venue.

Other prior Webb Ellis Cup winners like Schalk Burger and Bryan Habana were suitably vibrant into the bargain, while captain Jean de Villiers showed some strong signals at last that he may be “getting there” performance-wise ... even if there’s another concern over his health after a late smack to the jaw.

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

Willie le Roux: 7

Sound outing, after welcome recall. Generally kicked well when required to do so in first half, and showed his slippery qualities on attack when Boks opened up as game progressed. Came within whisker of at least two tries.

JP Pietersen: 8

Flirted with yellow card after silly high challenge on Alesana Tuilagi, but otherwise a revelation after lean international spell. Settled Bok nerves with brilliantly-read intercept score, then showed sublime handling and other skills. Predatory qualities of old suddenly flooded back.

Jean de Villiers: 6.5

Much more decisive leadership this week as Boks cleverly built an innings, as they say. Good leg drive on one occasion, and his old sleight of hand became increasingly evident before he took another worrying crack to the jaw late on; verdict awaited ...  

Damian de Allende: 7.5   

Brought stealth and power to the No 12 channel; constant handful to Samoan defence even if some of his raids were a little lateral. Tackled with great purpose as well. Damaged his right knee in first half and later forced off in 48th minute.

Bryan Habana: 7

Showed praiseworthy zest and gumption in always trying to exploit the most minor of space. Rewarded for durability with handsome, tearaway final try for Boks in 83rd minute.

Handre Pollard: 7.5

Official man of match, even if that was disputed by some in press-box. Still, the youngster showed fearlessness going to the advantage line against the rugged Samoans, and after some early gremlins (like an overcooked kick-off) became increasingly commanding at No 10.  

Fourie du Preez: 9

This writer’s own choice as standout Bok player. How refreshing just to see him complete as many as 73 minutes so effortlessly! Gave the Boks key direction and sound game management at No 9, and his tactical kicking and speedy passing were godsends as well.

Duane Vermeulen: 7

Yes, there’s obviously a way to go to get him back to vintage best after a 17-week layoff ... but what a Trojan to go the distance on comeback. Supervised many lethal rolling mauls, and his ball-in-hand bursts only seemed to become more frequent as game progressed.

Schalk Burger: 7.5

Loves a good scrap, so always seemed likely to rise to the challenge against these renowned combative foes. That old engine just keeps going and going.

Francois Louw: 7

Another Bok stalwart to warm increasingly to the challenge; now much nearer to own A-game again after injury layoff. Worked tirelessly at close quarters.  

Victor Matfield: 7.5

Some critics felt he should be demoted for this one: instead he got up for it superbly. Constant bastion of reliability in first half, either at kick-off collections or the lineout, where he caused mayhem on Samoan throw. Rousing applause as he left field on 55 minutes, sound job done. Had ice pack on left leg afterwards – hopefully just a 38-year-old’s lot?

Eben Etzebeth: 8

Absolutely oozed aggression, right from the kick-off when he went clattering in and won a penalty straight away. Maintained lustre (but composure also) at coalface, and aided Matfield in ensuring lineout angst for the opposition. Bits of deft handwork as well.

Jannie du Plessis: 5

Hurt a knee during first half, which impeded his mobility a bit, but had been struggling anyway to achieve both a scrummaging grip and efficiency in open play. Incurred penalty wrath of Wayne Barnes at breakdowns too.

Adriaan Strauss: 7

Not everyone favoured omission of Bismarck du Plessis, but give the 50-capper his due: tigerish display for 68 minutes including some concerted carries and near-deadeye efficiency with his lineout throw-ins.

Tendai Mtawarira: 6

Blew hot and cold ... there were more “Beeeast” chants this week, indicating that he had some forceful drives. But scrums were often poor by Boks, so must take some responsibility there. 

Standout substitute:

Lood de Jager: 7.5  

You just can’t seem to keep the spring-heeled young athlete out of the fulcrum of the action this year, whether he is starting or making an impact off the bench for the national cause. Took over the baton from a firing Matfield with ease – and no lack of venom -- after 55 minutes. 

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing.

Rob is attending the Bok pool phase of RWC 2015 to provide news and analysis for Sport24 readers.

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