Cape Town - Hellish commitment … bodies on the line … emptying the lungs.
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They’re well-worn sporting clichés, but our Springbok heroes exhibited them in bag-loads at Wellington’s “Cake Tin” on Saturday.
A famous win? Oh, and the rest.
Saturday’s quite amazing 36-34 Rugby Championship upset of the All Blacks - at very least stalling the home side’s march toward title retention - could hardly have been better timed for the Rassie Erasmus-Siya Kolisi alliance at the helm of Bok plans.
Whatever happens in the remainder of this tournament, South Africa have fired a strong shot across the bows of the world champions with the 2019 World Cup (they’ll be group rivals) only a year and six days away.
This was the Boks’ first triumph in New Zealand since the name-change, and expansion, from the old Tri-Nations and it warrants a special place in the SA annals just because of the near no-hope status, understandably, of the globally seventh-ranked Springboks in the lead-up week.
Few Bok supporters will give a hoot that the win required a rare degree of bloody-mindedness to manufacture; they were outscored in a pulsating Test match by six tries to five and in several respects New Zealand were their own worst enemies in failing to prevail.
They commanded the lion’s share - perhaps a bigger animal could even be used in the analogy - of territory and possession, forced their opponents into making well over 100 more tackles than they did, played with a fatal (almost too swaggering?) looseness at key moments, and the less said about Beauden Barrett’s brittle place-kicking the better, from their perspective.
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These All Blacks WILL strike back, almost certainly will correct a lot of their Wellington flaws.
But the Boks - a young, painstakingly learning group - had significant spells of majesty themselves, both on attack and in dogged devotion to defence when they got their alignment right, and could also argue with some conviction that referee Nigel Owens and the other officials hardly gave them the rub of the green in some 50-50 calls at critical junctures.
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Here’s how I rated the Boks in Wellington:
Willie le Roux: 7.5
We certainly got the “switched-on Willie” here after a couple of forgettable Tests. He ghosted into attacking moves with trademark, exquisite timing, drawing defenders for others to prosper. Much more committed under high balls and in the tackle, too, including one very solid stoppage of Rieko Ioane. Late yellow card was badly-timed, yes, but it was really a case of taking one for the team under massive pressure.
Jesse Kriel: 6.5
The right wing stuck to his guns in a largely “foreign” role for him pretty well. Good leg-drive at times, and once tackled Codie Taylor with great zeal into touch. Reverted to No 13 duty in second half and aided the gutsy collective shut-out initiative.
Lukhanyo Am: 6
Showed decent physical commitment at close quarters, even if stretched sometimes when All Blacks flung it wide. Was still returning from side-line injury treatment as hosts notched one try; clock should really have stopped for him? Didn’t reappear for second period.
Damian de Allende: 6.5
Again not much room for him to use his fleet-footedness, but some rock-solid, “thou shalt not pass” defensive work … it may well have contributed to his shoulder injury; had to be withdrawn in 48th minute.
Aphiwe Dyantyi: 7.5
Look, he still gets sucked in a little too much for comfort when Boks are under cosh in wide berths. Otherwise though, another splendidly tigerish, creative showing, marked by two personal tries ... the second was a great little in-dart finish when he might have been smashed out at the flag.
Handre Pollard: 7
Simply awful start as his kick-off sailed right over dead-ball line ... but fortunately it was all uphill from there. Defended his vital channel stoutly, including brave tackle on rampaging, 135kg prop Karl Tu’inukuafe, and kicked with greater assurance out of hand. Place-kicking enormously more efficient, too; showed up Barrett there (vitally, in the final analysis).
Faf de Klerk: 7.5
A few things he did went pear-shaped, but buzzing De Klerk’s quite remarkable, game-long stamina and general pluckiness ultimately played valuable role in this win. Tackled like an extra loose forward, including on many much bigger men. His spirit also summed up when he successfully fielded his own ill-judged box kick once.
Warren Whiteley: 7.5
One of his best games in Bok colours. The No 8 roamed with great energy and enthusiasm, and gave a few welcome demonstrations of his deft stepping. Defended especially well on Bok try-line, and made one track-back tackle on a flying TJ Perenara that would have lifted all around him.
Pieter-Steph du Toit: 8.5
Usually one the humblest, least demonstrative of rugby players, the big blindside flank was in tears after the final whistle - thoroughly encapsulating his titanic, unrelenting work-rate and quite what this rare outcome in NZ meant to him. Du Toit reportedly made close to 30 tackles ... 30! Sturdy carries, into bargain.
Siya Kolisi: 8
Brilliant stuff on such a red-letter occasion from the captain; his industry in the darkest of places would have been appreciated by those always prepared to look beyond the glamour moments in rugby for heroism. Kolisi’s tackles were often real thumpers, and he made valuable yards ahead of one first-half try.
Franco Mostert: 7
Like Kolisi, grafted where the sun doesn’t shine, and pulled his weight at scrum-time and in mauls. Second only to Du Toit for tackle count.
Eben Etzebeth: 7
The senior pro was notably animated in pre-game huddle, and duly fronted up in hallmark fashion. Guilty of a couple of errors, like taking out Aaron Smith to leak an early penalty and unusually being dispossessed once on his feet, but also joined the hard-tackle crusade with relish.
Frans Malherbe: 7
Contributed to a few healthy Bok scrum heaves, and worked solidly off the ball. One good carry, immediately preceding a SA penalty win, and had a midfield rampage in second half.
Malcolm Marx: 7.5
One of the men the Boks would most have wanted to get in All Black faces ... and the big hooker didn’t disappoint. Involved in build-up to one of Dyantyi’s tries, and notched his own off menacing maul. One lineout overthrow, but otherwise this department tightened.
Steven Kitshoff: 8
Has the guard more fully “changed” now? This was his second start in a row ahead of seasoned Tendai Mtawarira, and Kitshoff delivered a rousing game in all areas. Fine engine, and a special handful when on the drive; it usually took two or three to bring him down.
Cheslin Kolbe: 7
Much of the bench pleasingly continued the broad effort in gritty resistance terms, but Kolbe (on at right wing straight from the break) cracks top mark for his opportunism to register first, intercept try of second half ... nobody was going to catch him. Let Rieko Ioane go around him once for a try, but then also clattered into him with everything he had to force him into touch on another vital occasion late on.
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