Rugby Championship

Bok bright side: Pollard arrives!

2014-09-13 14:33
Handre Pollard (Gallo)

Cape Town – That is five Springbok defeats on the trot to the All Blacks ... but there are positives to bank, a year out from the 2015 World Cup in the neutral United Kingdom.

As it happened: New Zealand v Springboks 

Just one, in the gutsy 14-10 Wellington reverse on Saturday in the Castle Rugby Championship, was a demonic Duane Vermeulen going toe to toe with the revered Kieran Read at No 8 and possibly even shading that enthralling battle in a broadly top-notch Test match.

But the most significant area of fresh hope, arguably, was the way the rookie Handre Pollard took charge of the South African No 10 jersey after his much-debated installation at the expense of Morne Steyn.

He was assured in all respects, including stout defence, an authoritative out-of-hand kicking game, and silky set-up of the Bok try.

The turbulence in the berth must surely end, on this evidence: give him as much further exposure as possible now, ahead of the RWC ...

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

Willie le Roux: 5.5

Unusually butter-fingered in handling department. Long way from the playmaker’s best Test, generally. But don’t dismiss his couple of vital mop-up moments to thwart very likely All Black tries.

Cornal Hendricks: 6.5

Seven Tests ... now five tries. Gave another demonstration of finishing ability, like a prolific soccer striker. Other elusive runs. Sporadic wobbly moments when NZ ran at his channel.

Jan Serfontein: 7

Wisely, got plenty of time in the more comfortable inside centre channel for him. Rugged physical commitment on defence, pleasing stamina and shrewd decoy running.

Jean de Villiers: 6.5

Not the result the hugely respected centurion wanted, but at least his side went down with honour intact. Solid personal outing, including brilliant fingertip pick-up of misdirected Bryan Habana pass.

Bryan Habana: 6.5

Limited opportunities, but couple of dangerous, sniping darts and earned his spurs defensively. Prominent for breakdown industry, though penalised once in that area.  

Handre Pollard: 8

Richie McCaw had spoken of aiming to “rough up” the 20-year-old. In short, it didn’t happen as Pollard outstandingly passed acid test of temperament. Resourceful all-round game, including sublime inside pass for Bok try. In it for the long haul, yes?

Ruan Pienaar: 6

Cruel that he was looking more assertive – albeit still not awe-inspiring -- in this game, ahead of 36th-minute injury to knee after accidental, heavy whack on it from team-mate Duane Vermeulen’s flying foot. One or two good kick chases.

Duane Vermeulen: 8.5

You have to feel for this guy: top Bok performer for second game on trot, though again in losing cause! Simply immense commitment, power and ceaseless energy. “He is a bruiser of note,” tweeted former Bok skipper Corne Krige.

Marcell Coetzee: 7

Admirable work ethic, once again. Big tackles, one priceless, beautiful steal with Boks under cosh and generally alert to danger.

Francois Louw: 6

Continues to dovetail well with latest flank-mate Coetzee. Plenty of unglamorous but very necessary donkeywork. Off injured early in second half.

Victor Matfield: 7

I believe we saw enough, in a full-blooded Test against these traditional foes, to confirm that he can, indeed, be managed through to another World Cup. Imposing figure at lineouts ... certainly upset NZ on their throw-in.

Eben Etzebeth: 6

Outdone for personal prominence on day by great young rival Brodie Retallick, but that doesn’t mean he had a bad game. Some huge, hold-up challenges on All Black ball-carriers. Conceded penalty for sealing off.

Jannie du Plessis: 6

Like whole Bok scrummaging unit, seemed to lose some sting after break. But played his part in commanding first-half showing in this phase.   

Adriaan Strauss: 7

I had called in midweek for big personality Bismarck du Plessis to start this one ... but Strauss was excellent; highly efficient in his core areas. Bok scrum and lineout went noticeably “south”, too, when he went off for Du Plessis in 55th minute.

Tendai Mtawarira: 5.5

Some tackles, but perhaps not enough? And those inspiring carries of yesteryear still largely absent. A few good scrums, including one great left shoulder that, deflatingly for him, saw Boks penalised on other side of front row.

Standout substitute:

Warren Whiteley: 6.5  

SA lost very little of their feistiness and competitiveness at the breakdown when the Lions captain replaced injured Louw in 47th minute. Busied himself like true pro. Two replacement props, Trevor Nyakane and Marcel van der Merwe, had some strong scrums near end.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


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