Cape Town – Lamentably floundering in deep mud, with rescue clearly
a long way from arrival.
It was impossible not to draw that conclusion about
Springbok rugby as the national team slumped to a mistake-littered 23-18 Rugby
Championship reverse to only marginally less inept Australia in Brisbane on
For coach Rassie Erasmus – his captain Siya Kolisi should
increasingly be under the microscope too – this was a serious setback
considering his “must win” statement ahead of the meeting at a seemingly
half-empty Suncorp Stadium and the controversy generated by his half-dozen
changes to the starting line-up for the Test.
The Boks have now won only three of seven matches in 2018, a
42.85 percent record, including setbacks in three of their last four Tests.
Just in terms of the standard of the performance, marked by
some consistently awful, unforced gaffes and rank amateurish decision-making,
it is almost futile to make the point that South Africa should have done enough
in a reasonably purposeful first half to put the game to bed.
But they lost their grip (and composure) at vital times
before the break to let the Wallabies back into the picture, a once commanding
15-7 advantage being whittled down to 18-17 as the teams headed down the
That was all the ammunition the home side – remember,
stripped of three key figures a day or two beforehand – needed to believe they
could winkle this one out, and they duly turned the screws suitably to prevail.
The Boks are thus in some disarray as they head to
Wellington for next Saturday’s clash with now runaway tournament leaders the
Expect some fallout, too, from Erasmus’s humiliating
decision to haul hooker Bongi Mbonambi off (seemingly uninjured) as early as
the 35th minute for Malcolm Marx - who brought no special improvement
to a frustratingly fallible lineout.
Here’s how I rated the Boks in Brisbane:
Willie le Roux: 4
A brilliant feature of their last win in Australia at the
same venue in 2013, Le Roux failed lamentably to revisit those highs here. One
chip he made on attack went straight into touch, and two knock-ons under little
pressure thwarted promising enough Bok raids. Seasoned campaigner must take his
share of blame for bad exit play by SA, as well.
Makazole Mapimpi: 6
The right wing was looking zestful … before falling prey to
first-half injury for a second Test in a row. But in his 33 minutes he had
engineered a turnover and also notched a corner-flag try with sound body
positioning from Faf de Klerk’s skip pass.
Jesse Kriel: 5.5
Kriel probably didn’t do enough to suggest the instability
at outside centre has been solved, but he was nothing if not tenacious, including
a gutsy defensive intervention in the corner. Botched one chip kick from his
Damian de Allende: 6.5
Solid game, pretty much throughout, even if opportunities to
get into fifth gear were few and far between for him. Constructive in limited
space, and made firm tackles. Lost the ball once in a “bust-in” move near the
Aphiwe Dyantyi: 5
Spent quite a bit of time catching the proverbial cold, as
attacking chances seldom arose for the livewire left wing. Badly messed up one
Elton Jantjies: 5.5
The big plus for the enigmatic No 10 was that he largely cut
out personal errors in this match. Also kicked all three of his goals. No
special X-factor in his key slot, though, and some dinks in promising positions
didn’t come off; he was also overhasty once with a relieving penalty kick that
gained very limited distance into touch.
Faf de Klerk: 3.5
Because he is such a natural “eager beaver”, he will always
do some good things – like the long pass that teed up Mapimpi’s try. But De
Klerk was also one of the most glaring culprits for errors. These included an
ill-judged kick leading to an early Wallaby try, some knock-ons, an off-side
lapse and a high tackle. Can’t someone just calm him down at times?
Warren Whiteley: 5.5
I felt his busy, willing first half was one of his best
40-minute spells in recent times. It included some gritty last-ditch defending.
But then he seemed to lose some lustre and was yanked off around the hour mark.
Pieter-Steph du Toit:
Physically up for it, as ever. Pitched up convincingly in
pressure situations, and one rib-crunching tackle on Matt Toomua. Once or twice
exposed in the pace department as stealthier Aussie ball-carriers would elude
Siya Kolisi: 5
Keeping up his far from ideal hallmark of getting fulsomely
involved in bursts … then going anonymous again. Should have reacted quicker
when Boks botched a long lineout throw to leak a silly try. Some fine bust-outs
and carries, but also no special impact as a fetcher, and seemed to irk referee
Glen Jackson in the closing stages.
Franco Mostert: 5
Some honest input, but that’s not new from him, and debate
may also re-open about whether Boks require a slightly beefier specimen in the
No 5 shirt.
Eben Etzebeth: 6.5
Infinitely better than in Mendoza, where the big enforcer
was subbed in the 47th minute – very early for him. Put in a robust
hour here, playing major role in general Bok forward supremacy (both set-piece
and tight-loose) in the first half. Plenty of tackles, and kick-off receipts
Frans Malherbe: 6.5
As with Etzebeth, lifted his game enormously from the loss
in Argentina. Lost a ball forward in contact early on, but then got stuck in at
the coalface. Scrummed well, and was well-placed to make some vital tackles,
too, near the Bok line.
Bongi Mbonambi: 6
The hooker was having a fine outing until shortly before
halftime, including controlling Bok mauls astutely and dotting a well-earned
try from one of them. But then his unfathomable long throw in a
defensive-lineout situation (albeit that someone else probably called it?)
surrendered a gift seven-pointer … and he was highly debatably substituted
ahead of the break. It didn’t seem like best man-management.
Steven Kitshoff: 6
Hmm, mixed bag … as with several colleagues. Serious handful
as Boks earned some widespread forward traction in first half, including two
cheeky wins at front of lineout. But he began to become too penalty-prone and
an untimely knock-on didn’t help.
Francois Louw: 5.5
All the talk of an unusually heavyweight Bok bench really
amounted to little: few subs truly shone, though at least the veteran Louw
tried near-ceaselessly to get his hands and knees dirty in the closing 18
*Follow our chief
writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing