Rugby Championship

Lood excels in one that got away

2015-07-18 16:29
Lood de Jager (Gallo Images)
Cape Town – Failure to go for the jugular when they had the Wallabies as much as 20-7 down in Brisbane on Saturday cost South Africa dearly as they were agonisingly elbowed out at the death in their Castle Rugby Championship opener.

The Springboks’ 24-20 loss at least contained many pleasing aspects to go with the flaws, so it is not as though people would be justified in saying their World Cup hopes in a couple of months’ time should be notably downgraded.

Ironically use of the bench by the visitors proved both an asset and hindrance in the thrilling, fluctuating encounter: a few strong-performing players were arguably withdrawn too quickly by the Bok management, albeit that bigger-picture RWC needs and experimentation cannot be discounted.

But a hallmark of that department was also the way Lood de Jager, the 22-year-old second-rower, asserted himself after answering the emergency call to replace injured icon Victor Matfield in the first quarter. He did enough to earn top rating on the Sport24 performance card ...

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

Willie le Roux: 5.5

Blew hot and cold, as is not too uncommon by this unpredictable player. Mediocre in the air, some wonky kicks ... but lovely offload for first Bok try whilst positional play praised by pundit Naas Botha.

JP Pietersen: 6.5

Honest shift: one assured high-ball catch, vigorous kick-off chasing, stout defence and should have been put clear for try-line once, when awaiting outside pass that never came.  

Jesse Kriel: 7.5

Glimpses of potential against World XV confirmed on proper Test debut ... looked class act at No 13 with strong defending and carrying. Fine combo of muscularity and guile for his second-half try.

Damian de Allende: 7

Option-taking culprit in afore-mentioned Pietersen chance missed, but that was about it for gremlins. Broadly powerful and authoritative presence.

Bryan Habana: 6.5

Rich experience and astuteness came into play quite a lot. Involved in both Bok try set-ups and made vitally-timed hit on flying Tevita Kuridrani once.

Handre Pollard: 5

Huge potential remains so obvious, and that’s a gratifying thing. Just labouring for necessary consistency right now. Nightmare first quarter, then showed fortitude in settling. Continued to make some errors, even as his physical competence and stealing opportunism shone through at times.  

Ruan Pienaar: 6

Service and tactical kicking largely efficient, and set up threatening attack with slick skip pass to De Allende. Fair enough stint of acting leadership, though penalised once for off-side.

Schalk Burger: 7.5

Selection in the Duane Vermeulen void at No 8 well vindicated; no surprise to this writer. Marvellous general work-rate plus sharp awareness, commitment on defence. Kept cool head, too, and so nearly prevented the contentious winning try at death.

Marcell Coetzee: 7.5

Robust, direct and unwavering in adhesive loose trio. Then shivers went down Bok fans’ spines for RWC as he succumbed to that horrible rugby bogey – knee injury – just 10 minutes from full time.  

Francois Louw: 7

Not quite as many big, personal pilfers as usual, but plenty of unglamorous donkeywork by the Bath man nevertheless, and assisted Bok breakdown mastery for healthy periods.

Victor Matfield: 6

Difficult to rate, really, as the normally injury-free veteran succumbed to hamstring problem before first quarter had even run its course. Captaincy calmness and nous possibly missed in costly closing minutes.

Eben Etzebeth: 7.5

Warmed progressively to his duties as game developed, including rousing end to first half when reward was fine, maiden Test try at left corner-flag. Engine kept going resolutely on defence as Boks so nearly closed out victory ...

Jannie du Plessis: 7

Give the much-maligned, ageing tighthead his due here: rock-solid at scrum-time in his 48-minute stay (including brief, apparent concussion check) and nice to see a bit of ball-in-hand activity as well.  

Bismarck du Plessis: 7.5

Continues impressive restoration of playing reputation after being relieved of Super Rugby captaincy. His three turnovers were all invaluable, coming at times when Boks under major cosh. Good chance Boks would have won if he’d stayed full 80 instead of 50th-minute pull-off?

Tendai Mtawarira: 7

Another stalwart prop under some threat from a youthful brigade, the Beast did enough to halt their claims for the time being. No doubting Bok scrum was at its best when he and Du Plessis were still in heat of combat.

Standout substitute:

Lood de Jager: 8

Considering how little rugby the Cheetahs beanpole has played due to injury this year, his sudden call to action after 18 minutes seemed big ask. Very quickly got stuck in, however, and it stayed that way. Carried brutally and tackled like a Trojan; lineout play pretty sprightly into the bargain.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


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