Cape Town – This was like the science test
the matrics found ominously hard a few weeks before their final exams.
In the context of the next World Cup, in
little more than a year’s time, the Springboks on Saturday were served a stark,
jolting reminder of their ongoing fallibility and status as little more than a
mid-table sort of power among the most established nations.
Argentina deservedly banked their third
bilateral Test triumph from the 28 tussles with a 32-19 Rugby Championship
humbling (also the widest margin they have achieved yet) of Rassie Erasmus’s charges
in the sunshine of Mendoza.
It is true that the Pumas played out of
their skins, including producing periods of dazzling hand-to-hand play that had
a flaky Bok defence groping at shadows, and also bursting the bubble, on the
day, of famed SA physicality.
But the visitors had plenty of
opportunities of their own, too, and the manner in which so many were
butchered, either by poor option-taking, evidence of technical shortcomings in
passing or simply by being overly frantic, simply reminded of the painful route
yet to be negotiated on the Boks’ intended climb back toward top dogs on the
The scary thing I found for this exercise
was that, even in other video nasties over the last few years, it is usually
possible to identify at least one or two lone beacons of near-excellence from
the Bok starting XV… here I could find no genuine exception to the hallmark of
For the record, two forward substitutes in
the second half earn best scores out of 10.
Here’s how I rated the Boks in Mendoza:
le Roux: 5.5
Nick Mallett effectively savaged the
fullback at half-time for “40 minutes of non-contact rugby”. It included a
gross lack of authority as the incoming player under a high ball, where he had
a bad mix-up with Faf de Klerk. A saving grace was Le Roux still being behind a
couple of moments of tee-up magic on attack.
The right wing, scorer of two tries against
the same foes in Durban a week ago, was injured and withdrawn well before the
first quarter had run its course, so a rating is not really applicable.
(Replacement Lionel Mapoe, albeit more familiar to midfield, was plucky enough
and crossed for a second-half brace himself.)
It was back downhill for the Sharks
midfielder, alas, after a strong showing at his home ground of Kings Park last
Saturday. He got sucked inward too often on defence, made no impact over the
ball – an area he is usually good at – and once fatally delayed a pass that
might have sparked promise on the wing.
His brawny qualities made him a moderate
handful (although having him crash onto the ball can be overdone) and he made
some firm tackles. But doubts remain about his creativity potential in a key
Gritty and willing enough -- which was
something on a day where others couldn’t even find that much. Robbed of what
would have been an excellent finish for a try by an earlier, marginal forward
pass in the move. Still needs work on positional acumen on defence, and
tactical kicking. Driven back forcefully once in a tackle and penalised for not
Every now and then, some
beautifully-weighted passes in Bok offensives. Otherwise, regrettably, a
continuation of his “yips” from last weekend … including a wretched, usually
routine early penalty miss. Nicolas Sanchez playing a blinder opposite him
hardly helped matters. Confidence has drained in an extraordinary way; No 10
berth up for grabs again.
de Klerk: 4.5
Not his fault at times that players weren’t
where they should have been for ball receipts. But this was also another game
where, for all his effervescence, De Klerk was a little exposed again in
Did a lot of scrambling, and generally
covered groundbetter than certain more lumbering pack-mates. Again, however, he
struggled to provide true “oomph” on the front foot to the Bok cause.
Decidedly mixed bag … and ideally you want
more than that from your skipper on such a harrowing afternoon, don’t you? Made
some racehorse-like breaks in the first half, including for his 14th-minute
try, and showed lovely hand skills once or twice. But he also went too notably
AWOL, in his supposed new role as blind-sider, as a “go forward” factor.
Pretty grim Test by the 33-year-old
veteran. No consistent impact in his primary role at the breakdown, and frankly
he looked too close to the proverbial revolving door in the tackle department a
He’s always been more of a “cruiserweight”
lock on the scales and, for all his honest endeavour, this was the kind of
match – against especially revved-up opposition – where it showed. Still
managed a couple of solid clean-outs.
Back to earth for the big guy. It isn’t
often that Etzebeth is withdrawn after only 47 minutes, but perhaps last week’s
heroic exertions on comeback from a very lengthy absence caught up with him in
faraway Mendoza. First-half yellow card for a ruck offence under pressure, soon
after Boks had been rocked by successive tries, only added to collective woes.
Like Etzebeth, he had put in a big Durban
shift … and similarly just didn’t seem to have the legs for the follow-up.
Sprightly enough first few minutes, but then receded badly.
The Pumas had done their homework well on
the powerhouse, spiritedly stopping him in his tracks when he tried out some of
his famed leg-drive. His role in an imperfect lineout remains under scrutiny as
Let’s just say that, even if Argentineans
might never have done it too lustily anyway, there were desperately few
opportunities for the “Beeeast!” chant. Subdued showing.
Louw and Pieter-Steph du Toit: 6.5
Replacement tighthead Louw had a pleasingly
solid last 20 minutes, including one gigantic right shoulder in a scrum; Boks
also heeled against the head with him on. As for Du Toit, his bulk and general
vigour came in belatedly handy; shouldn’t have been dropped to bench in first
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing