Rugby World Cup 2011

Bok battlers: how they rated

2011-09-30 13:18
Heinrich Brussow (Gallo Images)

Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

Cape Town - It was always unlikely to be pretty, and there will be some bruises and slightly more worrisome injuries for the Springbok dressing room to contemplate, but the fact remains: they got the job done against Samoa on Friday.

GALLERY: Springboks v Samoa

A low-scoring match that bristled with intensity, physicality and a few outbreaks of off-ball cynicism from the desperate Samoans in particular, ended with the defending RWC champions victorious by eight points and guaranteed winners of their “pool of death”.

You can’t argue too much with that, even if harsher critics may question the Boks’ inability to nail a single further point against the Pacific Island underdogs after going encouragingly 13-0 up as early as the 26th minute at North Harbour.

As acting captain Victor Matfield noted immediately afterwards: “In the second half we went to sleep a bit ... but luckily our defence held them out.”

From Nos 15 to one, this is how I judged the Bok starting XV in marks out of 10 on the night:

Pat Lambie:  7.5
Gutsy outing by the Sharks youngster ... and crucially so in the last line of defence, given the rough-and-tumble nature of the encounter. Positional play and handling under pressure was sound, whilst his smallish frame stood up commendably in tackle situations; his last-ditch effort on a marauding David Lemi, the Samoan right wing, almost certainly prevented a second-half try.

JP Pietersen: 7
Nature of the contest meant ball-in-hand opportunities were few and far between for the long-striding customer, but the tall wing kept juggernaut Alesana Tuilagi pretty much in check and always put his body on the line spiritedly for “offensive defence” ... especially in one impressive second-half salvo when he stayed right in Samoan faces for a vital couple of minutes.

Jaque Fourie: 6.5
Desperately few chances for line breaks or other attacking initiatives by the outside centre, but the traditional backline defence “chief organiser” and signalman undoubtedly played his part in stemming the mounting Samoan tide in the second period.

Frans Steyn: 7
For so big a unit, showed one or two instances of twinkle-toed elusiveness, but this game was primarily about physical strength and commitment and here he did not disappoint in a key channel. Often made precious little yards even with blue-jerseyed men on his back, and contributed a trademark long-range penalty as well – another unluckily rattled the crossbar and stayed out.

Bryan Habana: 7
What wretched luck for the seemingly revitalised, clearly massively-motivated left wing to have to depart so soon after half-time through a nasty knock to a thigh. Earlier, the oft-maligned Habana had looked sharp, slippery and industrious, and thoroughly deserved to dot down the lone Bok try in the corner after a crisp hand-to-hand move on the open side.

Morne Steyn: 6
His critics tend to look for his missed tackles and yes, one or two of those moments arose again. But there were also times, perhaps unnoticed by some TV-watchers, when he absorbed the heavy traffic in his vicinity very stoutly. Still, his tactical kicking was often questionable: he hoisted some speculative up-and-unders at times when probing the corners or simply for better field position generally would have been a much better option.

Fourie du Preez: 6.5
You still get the sense at times that he remains a half-yard off his old, legendarily high tempo of play. But Du Preez was quietly efficient here, his experience and cool-headedness under pressure coming in handy. Option-taking at half-back also better than that of Steyn outside him.

Pierre Spies: 5.5
It was partly a sign of his inability to genuinely impose himself in a bone-rattling match that the No 8, whose brawn should have been an important weapon, was replaced on 62 minutes by Willem Alberts after he again performed in fits and starts. Sometimes they toss deceptive, protesting stats at you after a game, but I would be surprised if his tackle or turnover count came anywhere close to that of his fellow loosies.

Schalk Burger: 7.5
Another performance of ceaseless zeal and endeavour by the blond flanker, who was the officially-named man of the match. The Samoans seemed to go out of their way to try to rile Burger, but to his credit he mostly snubbed the red rag and his “senior man” leadership skills were in evidence, too, as the match looked for a short while like turning the Samoan way.

Heinrich Brussow: 8
For what it’s worth, I felt the nuggety little Free Stater just shaded similarly impressive Burger for rights to top Bok laurel in this fixture. Brussow was an ever-present at the breakdown, showed amazing body strength at times against rugged foes, and also kept his cool in the tiff with Paul Williams that led to the fullback’s red-card banishment at a very costly time in the match from a Samoan point of view.

Victor Matfield: 7
A decent comeback from injury for the veteran lineout kingpin, who was a “presence” as usual in that department and presumably played his honest, unseen part in the Bok scrum that fired especially smoothly in the first half. Made some tackles that may have escaped some onlookers’ eyes, as well.

Danie Rossouw: 6
One of the Bok forwards of the World Cup ahead of this group finisher, here he was not quite as prominent as a ball-carrier but let’s face it: this game didn’t open up too much for him. Hands let him down once as he tried to collect an admittedly tricky pass from Burger, but overall the tireless Bulls bruiser was decent enough.

Jannie du Plessis: 7.5
It’s generally been a fine tournament thus far for the good doctor, and right-shoulder man in the scrums ... here the Sharks No 3 certainly maintained his standards, I thought. Helped a few strong Bok heaves, even if the scrum lost some fizz later, and made a useful tackle as late as the 80th minute to confirm his commitment to the cause.

Bismarck du Plessis: 7
There were occasion gremlins on the Bok throw at lineout time, but for 69 minutes – until his replacement by John Smit, who quickly got an unjust “yellow” – Du Plessis was a massive presence again as a factor in driving and grappling play and brilliant poacher of Samoan ball at breakdowns. The hot potato at hooker stays exactly that!

Beast Mtawarira: 6
Influential presence initially as the Bok scrum found a forceful head of steam, although the Samoans later had some decent ones of their own. Mtawarira also ticked tackling boxes on a day when the Boks apparently made an energy-sapping 152 of them. Was fading a tad as Gurthro Steenkamp came on as a handy impact device for the last quarter.

Agree? Disagree? Post your ratings in the comments section below... 


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