Cape Town - The Springboks taking their eyes off the ball in the second quarter - to a brutally detrimental effect in scoreboard terms - went a long way to explaining their 23-13 Rugby World Cup defeat to the All Blacks in steamy Yokohama on Saturday.
Take away that “aberration” period in the encounter, when South Africa produced a plague of mistakes ruthlessly exploited by the defending champions, and the Boks would have been right at the races.
But with their kicking game (including collection of them) and tackling letting them down in those loopy 20 minutes, Kieran Read’s wily troops pounced gleefully on the frailty to post two converted tries that made all the difference in the final analysis.
South Africa also failed to get the rub of the refereeing green from one of their old French nemeses, Jerome Garces, although they should not harp on that for too long; their foes warranted the victory through superior composure and lethal finishing when presented with their rare chances.
On the plus side, a steelier, more focused Bok outfit struck back to “win” the second half 10-6 and at very least serve notice that they could yet go a long way at the tournament.
Although he will be disconsolate to have ended on the losing side, Bok right wing Cheslin Kolbe produced probably his premier international showing yet, combining dazzle on attack with the heart of a lion in a defensive capacity – a couple more like him and South Africa might just have been in business.
Here’s how I rated the Boks in Yokohama:
Willie le Roux: 4.5
Decidedly shaky showing from the seasoned fullback, especially in the first half where his woes under the high ball were acute at times. Erratic tactical kicking, too. Some clever touches, and a bit more stable broadly in the second period - though an ankle-high pass to Kolbe critically slowed a promising Bok raid.
Cheslin Kolbe: 9
In a nutshell, a constant handful to the world champions. Frequently excellent all Test season, Kolbe moved to superlative here, with his fleet-footed exploits either from the tightest of spaces or in much more open play. Gutsy and seldom outdone in aerial contests, he also stuck to his defensive alignment guns (others didn’t) and demonstrated a fantastically durable motor right to the end in the heat.
Lukhanyo Am: 5.5
Didn’t do a lot wrong, though it is often hard to judge him because the Boks so seldom shift the ball meaningfully to his outside centre channel for attack purposes. Made some decisive tackles.
Damian de Allende: 6
Intelligent reading of play at important times. Made some vital track-back interventions, and on one occasion tackled elusive Beauden Barrett into touch when there was a threat the fullback might run clear.
Makazole Mapimpi: 4
Sadly that hat-trick of tries a fortnight ago against Japan would have been quickly forgotten: struggled to a glaring extent defensively again superior foes. NZ tested his channel a lot, clearly having done their homework. Left for dead once when Sevu Reece collected a cross-kick and beat him effortlessly. One excellent chase-down of a flying Richie Mo’unga near Bok tryline, though.
Handre Pollard: 5
A bastion of confidence and consistency this year ... well, perhaps until Saturday. This was his poorest showing of 2019, including striking an upright with a very goalable penalty that would have put Boks 6-0 up; a big points swing followed soon afterwards. Spilled a ball which indirectly led to second NZ try.
Faf de Klerk: 4.5
Shouldn’t “supersub” Herschel Jantjies have had an earlier crack? (He only replaced an iffy De Klerk in 72nd minute.) The starting No 9 did a some tigerish things, as usual, but his first half was especially ropey, including a wild pass that the All Blacks happily exploited. Several wasted kicks.
Duane Vermeulen: 6
Just a little subdued by his high standards in the first half, as he marked the overdue occasion of his 50th cap. But the big eighth-man played a major role in the Bok clawback after the break, suddenly finding his most combative qualities. Strong leadership when Siya Kolisi departed, too.
Pieter-Steph du Toit: 7
Probably the pick of the Bok pack, a swelling trend with the blindside flank. Made some rib-rattling tackles and generally roamed the park with zeal. One disappointing knock-on in promising attack just before half-time whistle blew. It seems his late knee/leg injury was more cramp-related than anything else; cause for great relief if so.
Siya Kolisi: 5.5
Still not quite on his A-game after that knee injury earlier in the season, and the captain was first Bok to be subbed. Very little activity with ball in hand, though he made some important defensive interventions not necessarily noticed.
Franco Mostert: 6.5
Less assertive than in outstanding display against the Japanese, but a willing grafter as usual. Assured at lineout time, including a steal that led to a (rare!) penalty in Bok favour.
Eben Etzebeth: 6.5
Still a key part of a very competitive Bok tight five in Yokohama, Etzebeth has also had more stirring personal matches. Aggressive leg drive at times.
Frans Malherbe: 6
Not everyone’s cup of tea, but give him some credit in this one: he often forced Joe Moody into putting an elbow or hand on the deck in first-half scrums ... and should been rewarded by a sometimes blinkered Garces. Also made some important tackles when forced back into park late after reserve Trevor Nyakane’s seemingly quite serious injury.
Malcolm Marx: 6
Not an awful lot more than competent and error-free at his basic duties, really. But the qualities that made him such a venomous international hooker a year or two ago (bustling surges, muscular turnovers) still haven’t fully resurfaced yet in 2019, don’t you think? Played his part in strong mauls and scrums, though.
Steven Kitshoff: 6.5
Best of the Bok front-rowers ... like Malherbe, had some dominating moments at the set-piece (and was once ludicrously penalised when the mastering prop) and was busy as a carrier and over the ball at rucks.
Francois Louw: 5.5
Usually so potent, the Bok bench didn’t produce any special extra zest when it was needed ... although Rassie Erasmus’s relatively late resort to it, generally, will be open to debate. Still, earliest substitute Louw (51st minute) busied himself acceptably over the ball, at worst slowing it down usefully at times for NZ recycle.
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