Cape Town – So where are the Springboks in their development? Answer: pretty much going sideways.
Certainly the second consecutive 2017 draw between them and Australia -- both still streets behind confirmed champions New Zealand in the Castle Rugby Championship – in Bloemfontein on Saturday said so much in that regard.
It was edge-of-the-seat stuff, which is never a bad thing, with the Springboks botching a 79th-minute opportunity to win it off the penalty tee, as Elton Jantjies’ kick from a challenging angle “banana-d” well past the right upright, and the Wallabies then looking the likelier winners in the dying seconds.
On the plus side, the Boks made up in spirit what they surrendered in terms of costly naivety and an overly frantic approach at pivotal times, and if you were generously inclined you might wish to credit them for at least not losing the fixture that immediately followed a 0-57 humiliation.
The current team are clearly trying to cultivate a greater sense of creativity, high tempo and adventurousness, but in doing so they have also started to freshly haemorrhage what SuperSport guru Nick Mallett rightly branded traditional strengths like a once-metronomic set-piece and consistently solid defence.
It is also increasingly likely now that Allister Coetzee’s charges will slip to a third-placed finish in the tournament; that will happen if the All Blacks thump them at Newlands, and then Australia beat (still-winless) Argentina away.
And should that happen, the Boks would really have made no progress from last year in the southern hemisphere competition, when they were also only “top of the bottom half”.
Many players earn fairly middling ratings here … which arguably sums up the shortfall in truly special qualities?
Here’s how I rated the Boks out of 10 in Bloemfontein:
Andries Coetzee: 5.5
Came into his own on attack a bit in the second half, a welcome development, but still somehow looks short of longer-term potential as Bok fullback. Brilliant early touch-finder, but also one notably poor tactical kick.
Dillyn Leyds: 6.5
Let’s not get too carried away; predecessor Raymond Rhule had set such ordinary standards at No 14. But he was determined and committed on first start in almost everything he did, made one thumping hit on sturdy Marika Koroibete, and was a key link in the lead-up to a Bok try. Didn’t deserve the outrageous, blatant hair-pulling from Israel Folau …
Jesse Kriel: 6
The Bok backline still moves too laterally a lot of the time, and he must take a bit of the rap for that. But he made a few decent surges, including a sumptuous one through the middle, and got stuck into some cleaning-out work too.
Jan Serfontein: 6
Over-eagerness curtailed his effectiveness, as he sometimes burst a tad too early onto the ball, or fumbled in other situations. But plenty of nice touches as well, and crossed the “wash”.
Courtnall Skosan: 7
Perhaps his best Test match of the eight so far. Looked far more purposeful in all departments. Lovely leg drive -- for a smallish guy -- en route to his try, always sought to bust over advantage line, and tackled or tracked back on defence with vigour.
Elton Jantjies: 6
What a pity he couldn’t be a match-winner with that late penalty; who knows what that alone might have done for his confidence ahead of NZ at Newlands? Broadly, a solid enough game, even if he took the ball exasperatingly deep at times, and he made some brave tackles in his channel.
Ross Cronje: 6.5
The guy has his faults – some of his passes were a little high or “bobbly” – but he has a very willing engine, and heart, and keeps errors to a minimum. One particularly committed, crucially stopping hit on big Tevita Kuridrani, and no fault of his own that he was bumped off near the Bok try-line once by the bus that is Koroibete.
Uzair Cassiem: 5.5
Nothing noticeably wrong (often the case from him ... and is that quite enough for a Bok No 8?) before his game ended late in first quarter, via a rib injury.
Siya Kolisi: 6.5
Went off the boil at times, but also showed no lack at all of truly classy touches, in a Bok XV sometimes short of those. Inspiring carries, and lovely run on right wing seconds before Serfontein’s try. Costly high, missed lunge on Brendan Foley, but also some important, stamina-proving graft right at the death.
Francois Louw: 6
Hmm … still a bit short of the player of two or three years ago? Nevertheless, experience was precious amidst an overly frantic Bok “vibe” at times. Did enough to warrant another go against NZ on Saturday.
Franco Mostert: 6.5
Smashed into some collisions with gusto, put good pressure on Wallaby lineout, and earned a steal in that department as well.
Eben Etzebeth: 6.5
In retrospect, probably intervened too aggressively (as he’s skipper) after the Folau hair-pull disgrace, which may have helped explain the Oz man escaping a card. But you also don’t want to curb too much his natural fire, and there were constructive doses of that, especially in first period.
Ruan Dreyer: 4.5
I warned on Friday that in two prior Tests, Dreyer was a marked man from referees for technical issues at scrum-time … and chickens only returned to roost here, regrettably. One or two forceful heaves, but also penalised twice for over-extension or going-to-ground problems. Still has potential, but must revisit drawing board.
Malcolm Marx: 6.5
Extremely lively in open play and tight-loose, as is so often the case, and some deft little handling cameos as well. But penalised for not releasing, and a couple of lineouts went pear-shaped.
Tendai Mtawarira: 6.5
Impressive hour on the park. Like a man possessed in the opening quarter, with several storming raids. Also pulled his weight in the scrums. Victor Matfield reckons he’s in form of his life.
Jean-Luc du Preez: 6.5
Got much longer than he might have expected, thanks to Cassiem’s misfortune, and sucked in defenders with his dynamic carries. Also “holds up” opponents powerfully in the tackle, a la the Bismarck du Plessis of old.
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