Cape Town – It is probably no coincidence that South Africa were still trailing 10-8 to Australia when seasoned loose forward Schalk Burger entered the fray shortly before the start of the final quarter in Saturday’s Castle Rugby Championship Test at Newlands here.
By the time the dust had settled on the famous, threatened old stadium, the Springboks had added 20 points without reply in a remarkable late blitzkrieg ... with Japan-based former local hero Burger at the forefront of a collectively urgent and impactful display by various home-team substitutes.
In a powerful retort to those who rather foolishly assume the 31-year-old is all washed up as an international figure, Burger positively tore into the Wallabies, greatly assisting the overdue Bok bid to put together phases and stay on the front foot.
Not far behind him for enterprise and dynamism off the bench were such similarly experienced figures as JP Pietersen, Bismarck du Plessis and Bakkies Botha, whilst Patrick Lambie and Cobus Reinach took up their own late cameos with no less zeal and enterprise.
Here’s how I rated the Boks out of 10:
Willie le Roux: 6
Boks tried to involve him in attacking play as much as possible, but well policed by Wallabies. One deft grubber nearly set up first-half try, and made great fingertip catch once on defence.
Cornal Hendricks: 6.5
Vigilant and solid day on defence, including vital jersey-grab to halt flying scrumhalf Nick Phipps in short-side break. Dangerous on few occasions fed ball in space.
Jan Serfontein: 7
Fine stamina a key element of late Bok surge; never gave up tackling, scrambling and helping also at breakdown. His lethal line-break sparked three-try blitz in those breathless last few minutes.
Jean de Villiers: 7
This emotional, likely last Newlands Test for the captain wasn’t going too swimmingly for a while on personal basis; some handling and option-taking errors. But stuck admirably to his guns ... and rewarded with spectacular last 10 mins, including huge hit on prop Ben Alexander and two fairytale tries.
Bryan Habana: 5
Won’t go down as wing veteran’s favourite Test: early knock-on, and bumped off by Tevita Kuridrani in lead-up to Adam Ashley-Cooper’s try. Appearance cut short by injury.
Handre Pollard: 5.5
That inevitable learning process continues for the 20-year-old: some indecisive or misdirected kicks, plus a charge-down. But also demonstrated great strength and resolve carrying ball to advantage line.
Francois Hougaard: 7.5
Nervy start, with some wayward passes and communication snags. But then blossomed more and more. Monster commitment on defence, including try-saving tackle on thundering Joe Tomane, and some useful mini-breaks. Official man-of-the-match.
Duane Vermeulen: 8
Simply transferred his murderous commitment and physical presence on recent Australasian leg to this Test. Plenty of drive-back tackles, mighty charges and key turnovers or hold-ups. Rib injury and necessary replacement in 62nd minute a worry, of course ...
Oupa Mohoje: 6.5
Very tidy maiden start for Boks. Prominent early on, cleaning up a messy Bok move, then making fine kick-off catch. Made his tackles, though later faded a bit (perhaps due to severe shortage of recent game-time).
Marcell Coetzee: 7
Boks did seem to miss first-choice fetcher Francois Louw at breakdown, where they were turned over a few times and some possession came back slowly. But this man never drops his general work-rate. Made some decisive hits.
Victor Matfield: 7
The big athlete might have wished for more lineouts, his long-time forte. But pleasing here was his alertness and industry on defence, especially in dangerous times near Bok line.
Eben Etzebeth: 6.5
Definitely coming back into his own after very delayed start to season; engine now much closer to optimum efficiency and power. Showed good durability, even if stern Wallaby defence often curbed his driving quests.
Jannie du Plessis: 6
Scrums a pretty indecisive factor in this Test, but the tighthead did show solid industry on defence. Disappointingly turned over in one ball-in-hand charge.
Adriaan Strauss: 7.5
His blond head seemed to pop up everywhere, especially when Boks were needing hands to the pump in own quarter. Accurate with lineout throws, busy as ball-carrier and defender and pinched one or two balls at breakdown.
Tendai Mtawarira: 6
Vintage “Beast” showing continues to prove elusive in 2014, though steady at set-piece and largely didn’t miss his tackles.
Schalk Burger: 8.5
Unleashed like long-time caged animal for around 25 vital minutes ... and he was ever-present as the Boks seized an iron grip on proceedings. Burger just seemed to feature three times a minute, constantly hammering away at a tiring Wallaby defence with his fearless bursts or staple presence at the shoulder of colleagues carrying the ball up. Gave all the Boks the gee-up they critically needed.
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