Cape Town – A summer of some discontent suddenly looms for the Springboks as they decamp on holiday after a humdrum 50 percent record from their end-of-year tour.
They’d had two prior northern hemisphere visits, in 2012 and 2013, where they earned a full house of wins each time under Heyneke Meyer’s tutelage, so it is inevitable that their latest effort is going to be viewed as alarmingly recessionary for the coach, his lieutenants and his players.
South Africa almost certainly produced their most lacklustre, uninspiring and shambolic performance of the current year in the tour finale against Wales in Cardiff on Saturday, where the hosts’ 12-6 win after a grim arm-wrestle was only their second against these foes in a 30-match history.
As if to compound SA’s misery, a gruesome-looking injury to captain Jean de Villiers possibly puts in doubt the 33-year-old’s presence at the 2015 World Cup, even if time may still be just on his side.
Several Bok players saw their stocks tumble on the day -- most notably among them an increasingly stuttering fullback Willie le Roux, although men like Cornal Hendricks, Pat Lambie, Oupa Mohoje and reserve scrumhalf Francois Hougaard hardly covered themselves in glory either for infuriating errors or dubious judgement on a collectively forgettable outing.
On a tough occasion for pinpointing excellence, Marcell Coetzee’s bravery and unflagging work-rate earned the Sharks flanker my top rating ...
Here’s how I rated the Boks out of 10:
Willie le Roux: 4
Started out reasonably brightly, and found some decent touches with relieving kicks. But boy, did his day dive-bomb! Got progressively more jittery, culminating in terrible knock-on near own line and under no pressure. Won’t want to revisit the video of his second half.
Cornal Hendricks: 4.5
Seems to be going backwards with increasing Bok exposure, rather than the more desired other way around. No particularly bad blunders, but in tight, ugly games like this one, just needs to dirty his jersey a bit more for the cause. Victim of very dubious yellow card, though ...
Jan Serfontein: 6
I might be wrong, but his first carrying opportunity of any significance seemed to come around the 52nd minute! Still looks too much like an inside centre when he’s on the outside, but give him this much ... his defence was seriously urgent and committed.
Jean de Villiers: 5.5
One good in-field carry in narrow space, but otherwise still more prominent in tackling than on attack. Then came that sickening knee buckle for a player so jinxed when it comes to World Cups ... let’s wish him the very best in yet another recuperation drive.
Lwazi Mvovo: 5.5
Beaten in the air once, and sometimes looked uncertain when ball kicked behind him. But also provided at least two instances of fine, alert cover defence on the opposite wing.
Pat Lambie: 5
Why, oh why, did he choose to kick that ball ahead rather than pass after his brilliant break-out from Bok quarter? It kind up summed up his erratic day – including one especially wretched knock-on -- though there were good elements, like a beautiful long-range penalty strike. Certainly eclipsed by demonic Wales No 10, Dan Biggar.
Cobus Reinach: 5.5
Not quite as stealthy in service or decision-making as he was a fortnight earlier at Twickenham. Boks still cry out for the No 9 assertiveness and leadership of seasoned Fourie du Preez.
Duane Vermeulen: 6.5
Typically gutsy industry from a clearly tired competitor who, in retrospect, should have been rested against limited Italy. Closely policed by Wales, but that didn’t stop him from landing the odd breakdown turnover or lineout pinch ... and once leaving Gethin Jenkins firmly on his backside as the prop challenged the ball-carrying No 8.
Oupa Mohoje: 4.5
Encouraging enough first few minutes, but then went increasingly, unacceptably AWOL in the heat of a difficult battle. No special gains on this tour; blindside berth will be up for reassessment.
Marcell Coetzee: 7
Has to be marked down just a fraction because Sam Warburton, not him, was the pilfering king in this Test match. Otherwise, though, amazingly full-blooded devotion to tottering Bok cause. Covered enormous ground and always looking to tackle or carry.
Victor Matfield: 5.5
There’s no doubting he made a nuisance of himself on Welsh lineout throw, and won at least one penalty for interference as he tried to clutch own ball. Looked a bit jaded in other departments, as you might expect of a 37-year-old South African tight forward in late November ...
Eben Etzebeth: 6.5
Not far behind Coetzee at all for unyielding defiance on a harrowing afternoon. Some big “hold-up” tackles on rampaging Welshmen, and a couple of forceful ball-in-hand raids. Guilty of the odd, exasperating fumble.
Coenie Oosthuizen: 5.5
Jury will stay out over his suitability to No 3 after a chequered day. (That was case with whole Bok scrum: some shockers, some epic ones.) Conceded at least two penalties, though also won one. Assertive on few driving opportunities.
Bismarck du Plessis: 5.5
Fairly innocuous finish to probably his most forgettable international season. His aura slipped a bit in 2014, and Cardiff sadly did little to arrest the trend. Sometimes powerful over the ball at breakdown, and at least he didn’t over-react to regular Welsh baiting.
Tendai Mtawarira: 6
Might he have stayed on for a bit longer? Withdrawn (for Trevor Nyakane) in 54th minute after one of his better games this year for leg drive and general vigour in open play.
Adriaan Strauss: 6
No special turnaround factors off the bench in this one. A couple of nice touches again by Nizaam Carr, but the replacement hooker earns the mantle for a busy last 20 minutes or so, including a priceless turnover very close to his own line with Boks desperately under the cosh. Francois Hougaard, alas, extraordinarily gaffe-prone when he got 18 minutes or so at scrumhalf.
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