Rugby Championship

Boks: A sickener at scrum-time

2014-08-24 10:06
Springboks (AFP)

Cape Town – An unusually low collective tally for a Springbok tight five is the main hallmark of our performance scorecard from the 33-31 lucky escape in Salta.

Somehow, South Africa eked out the dramatic Castle Rugby Championship match against the pumped-up Pumas in their favour on Saturday ... and let’s not be shy to credit their pride and desperation in doing so.

For they pulled it off in spite of a set-piece horror show, and more specifically in the scrums, where the bajada had the Bok eight humiliatingly running (yes, running) backwards at times for one of the worst ego-bursts in our Test history.

So “fail” is unsurprisingly written all over my ratings for the front row, in particular, although the marks do improve the further you go from the engine room: three Bok loose forwards (including reserve Marcell Coetzee) top the Sport24 card and Willie le Roux comes through with credit from the jailbreak as well.

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

Willie le Roux: 7

Assured in the Loftus wet; ditto now the Salta heat. Played his part in repelling the Argentine blitzkrieg, and underlined how he remains Boks’ trickiest attack weapon.

Cornal Hendricks: 6

Wasn’t alone in some ropey moments as Pumas’ ball-in-hand panache caught Boks by surprise. But kept his nerve ... plus furthered reputation as quality finisher.

Damian de Allende: 5

Minor signs of his potential, but another awkward day in his unfamiliar No 13 role (which may need revisit). Scrambled well once or twice, but also dispossessed a couple of times on attack.

Jean de Villiers: 6

Not too surprisingly, another Bok back who couldn’t put a stamp on things given the set-piece woes upfront. Cool-headed leadership, however ... including crucial, productive decision deep in second half to favour lineout set-up rather than go for posts from penalty.

Bryan Habana: 6.5

The seasoned wing’s alertness when Boks were under cosh – often! – spared defensive blushes at times. Also, don’t under-estimate how well he dealt with bobbling ball for first Bok dot-down.

Handre Pollard: 6

Limited influence, yet the 20-year-old kept composure under most trying of circumstances. Stout on defence and as Naas Botha said: “How can you make very bad ball good ball (in his slot)?”

Ruan Pienaar: 5

Strange game, really ... still struggles to really look the part of a No 9 “boss”. But also engineered vital counter-attack for first Bok try, and broke brilliantly once ... only for cavalry to take an age to arrive in support.

Duane Vermeulen: 8

Picked up where he left off at Loftus, and then some. Another hard-nosed performance from the No 8, who looked more belligerent than most co-forwards with ball in hand, tackled vigorously and was Boks’ best lineout man.  

Juan Smith: 5.5

One or two little flashes of former glories and experience ... but only that. Generally, the returning veteran looked a yard behind the Pumas-dictated pace here.

Francois Louw: 8

Here’s another Bok forward who just wouldn’t be cowed on the traumatic day at the SA office: massive defensive presence and stayed admirably on side of the law in difficult circumstances at breakdown.

Lood de Jager: 5

Made to look more and more the rookie he is as Pumas pounded Bok pack mercilessly. Poor defence contributed to one home-town try, but did win some lineout ball.

Eben Etzebeth: 5

Valuable learning curve; reminder that success doesn’t always just land in your hands. Started busily, but faded severely. Remember, he’s still short of a gallop after long-term injury.  

Jannie du Plessis: 4

Another nightmare at the hands of Argentina’s 50-cap Marcos Ayerza ... the fact that Big Jannie is clearly exhausted from too much rugby only exposed him more embarrassingly.

Bismarck du Plessis: 4.5

We know he’s world-class but this was possibly his worst Test start yet. Only “rises” to a tad below five for some unsung work in stopping fierce Pumas mauls.

Gurthro Steenkamp: 3.5

Was that the loosehead prop’s last game for South Africa? You have to suspect so. Minced at the set-piece and looked lethargic and shell-shocked in general play.

Standout substitute:

Marcell Coetzee: 8

Much-needed, murderous commitment and energy in his half-hour on the park; hardly surprising that his presence coincided with Boks finally getting some go-forward that made all the difference on the scoreboard. Adriaan Strauss and Morne Steyn, to lesser extent, also helped calm the mayhem when introduced.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


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