Cape Town – Jean de Villiers, the designated Springbok RWC 2015 captain, called it the poorest of the four weekend quarter-finals in the 2019 event … and there wouldn’t have been too many quibbles with the nowadays television pundit.
But the fact remains that South Africa comfortably enough, in the final analysis, repelled host nation Japan 26-3 at Tokyo Stadium on Sunday to advance to a semi-final a week ahead against Wales.
The Springboks were infuriatingly imprecise and sloppy in the first half, explaining the heart-stopping situation of only 5-3 at the break.
But without altering in any profound way their unashamedly conservative game-plan, they got their collective acts together in the second period to administer a brutal, eventually more quick-seeping poison into underdogs Japan’s veins.
The foundations for the win came from routinely sharp “offensive defence” and a mighty, dominating pack effort that finally doused the Brave Blossoms’ tournament fire, although my choice for the best Bok player mantle went to midfielder Damian de Allende.
Here’s how I rated the Boks:
Willie le Roux: 4
Took a couple of nasty head/upper body blows in first quarter … and whole first half was pretty awful from him, in truth. Passing and handling far too scratchy (that was being kind, at times), and just too lotto-like in aerial contestation. To his credit, did spruce up his act considerably after the break.
Cheslin Kolbe: 6.5
In-form player policed carefully; space seldom opened up for the hot stepper on attack. But grafted like a trojan, often in places where the sun doesn’t shine and plentiful courage is required. More assured than Le Roux in the air, too.
Lukhanyo Am: 7
Played a pleasingly assertive back-up role to midfield partner De Allende in defensive line speed and clever timing of his challenges. Prominent as a stealer on the deck. Guilty of one poor pass to Mapimpi, and sometimes got that wee bit too eager and impatient.
Damian de Allende: 8
Hugely assertive and powerful at inside centre, where he made valuable yards and demonstrated the durability of his engine. But his aggressive defence and alertness in that department were also key features. Busied himself over the ball, as well. The occasional gremlin: like a knock-forward in contact and a penalty for obstructive running off the ball.
Makazole Mapimpi: 7.5
The try-poacher extraordinaire: a further brace here took his career tally to 13 from 12 Tests, so a better than 100 percent strike rate. He is lethal even in limited space. Defence was willing and mostly watertight, too. Penalised once for silly tackle in air … though also should have earned one for getting a coat-hanger off the ground that referee Wayne Barnes oddly let go.
Handre Pollard: 6.5
You can’t really be a flyhalf “general” when your No 9 is doing so much of the kicking from hand! But when he did get the chance, his tactical kicks were intelligent. Alert on defence, won an aerial contest well, and heavily involved in long-range Bok try late in game. Still a little erratic by his high standards off tee … needs to sharpen for semis.
Faf de Klerk: 6.5
Causes such divisive emotions over his playing style … much of it clearly under orders, of course. His frequent box-kicking all too seldom saw Boks win ball back. But his official choice as man of match, while highly debatable, would have been based on the good stuff: like his stamina, restless energy and speed/harrying on defence, a smart little steal at close quarters, and deft working of blindside to tee up first Mapimpi try.
Duane Vermeulen: 7
The gnarly No 8 reminded that he was “around” with one or two thunderous tackles … including one that knocked wind right from sails of unsuspecting fullback Ryohei Yamanaka.
Pieter-Steph du Toit: 7
Clearly opponents doing their homework on his carrying threat; opportunities fairly limited at RWC thus far. Industrious and uncompromising elsewhere, and earned brilliant front-of-lineout steal deep in Bok quarter to spark breakout raid for try. Would have had one of his own, but for irksome Le Roux forward pass.
Siya Kolisi: 7.5
Arguably the best Bok loosie, a welcome development. Tackle count well in the thirties, apparently, and some of them were really bruising. Best rugby came in Boks’ broadly improved second half. One or two dubious options when in possession.
Lood de Jager: 7.5
Another tireless shift from the lanky customer. Made countless in-your-face tackles (especially in first half), stole a lineout ball, and was astute maul director from the fulcrum.
Eben Etzebeth: 6
Hasn’t yet brought his most abrasive rugby to this World Cup, and that applied here. Dispossessed on one attacking drive, and conceded a penalty seconds after Boks had earned lineout poach. Pressured Japanese throw at front of lineout, however, and stole a ball or two.
Frans Malherbe: 6.5
His right shoulder was influential at the scrum. Some drive-back tackles -- though missed one at close quarters -- and good support shoving in driving play.
Bongi Mbonambi: 6.5
A clattering early tackle or two helped set tone for gradually-mounting Bok physical mastery. They will be hoping his leg injury shortly before break not too serious.
Tendai Mtawarira: 6
Veteran was extremely fired-up … but it got better of him with reckless spear-tackle that earned him 10th-minute yellow card, leaving Boks under nasty pressure at time. Scrummed with intensity, though, and one massive turnover tackle on Michael Leitch.
Malcolm Marx: 7.5
Strong statement by a player recently deposed as first-choice hooker. Got on just before halftime and was muscular, vigorous from that point onward. Lots of assertive tackles and cleanouts, and provided final pass off rumbling maul for De Klerk’s try.
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