Bok ratings: Old soldiers stand up

2015-10-17 22:33
Bryan Habana (Gallo)

Cape Town – It was done industrially and the Springboks have certainly played more complete and accurate matches ... but all that matters is that they have lugged their way into the RWC 2015 semi-finals.

A moment of decision-making and execution magic between seasoned pros Duane Vermeulen and Fourie du Preez was the critical turning point as the latter’s blindside try in the 74th minute made all the difference on the scoreboard in a 23-19 quarter-final triumph over gritty Wales at Twickenham on Saturday.

For those lamenting the often one-dimensional nature of the Bok game-plan in this one, and the way they kept running into a red brick wall at times, popular SuperSport pundit and former national coach Nick Mallett later offered the following perspective: “Don’t be negative ... remember that if you’d told all of us after Japan that we would be semi-finalists, we’d have bitten your hand off.”

There is plenty for South Africa to work on for improvement purposes ahead of their date in the last four next weekend, but a gratifying aspect of this toughed-out victory was the way several of their veterans or at least near-vets led the effort in the trenches.

Schalk Burger was official choice as man of the match, but other stalwarts like Vermeulen, Bryan Habana and Du Preez – some of them 2007 winners – were right up there for commitment and gumption on a taxing occasion.

Here’s how I rated the Boks out of 10:

Willie le Roux: 5

This was a decided off-day for the mercurial character, although he showed ticker for his perseverance that led to some improvement as the game wore on – including one snaking burst that troubled the Welsh defence. Generally blunder-prone, though, including misjudgement of a high ball that led to try against Boks in first quarter when the No 15 was at his shakiest. Some innocuous kicking.

JP Pietersen: 6.5

One brilliant aerial win in a fierce one-on-one, and looked fairly dangerous on the relatively few opportunities he had to gallop into space. Some rock-like defence.

Jesse Kriel: 5.5

Tough day at the outside centre office for this promising youngster, still on Test training wheels in so many respects. Found going hard as Welsh attacked early and repeatedly with ball in hand. Made way for Jan Serfontein during second period.  

Damian de Allende: 7    

Strong on his feet, as usual, and got into some half-gaps against dogged Welsh defence. But key feature in this fixture was his penchant for the well-timed turnover – including a beauty two or three minutes before final whistle.

Bryan Habana: 8

Still waiting to nudge ahead of Jonah Lomu for most RWC tries, but heck, it wasn’t for any lack of effort! At least two turnovers when Boks under cosh, and always competing, harrying, hustling. Heart-and-soul performance.

Handre Pollard: 6.5

Made place-kicking look thoroughly effortless initially, then had a brief spell of yips as well. But also banged over well-judged dropped goal, amidst 18-point haul, and made his tackles. Some gremlins in tactical kicking, however.

Fourie du Preez: 7.5

Thoroughly efficient rather than awe-inspiring for large parts of game, as Wales did everything they could to disrupt or blunt the little general. But earns a full extra point on my card for sublime anticipation and cool-headedness in the working of his match-winning try ...

Duane Vermeulen: 8

 Made some storming metres on occasion, and always one of the more precise Bok players on a day when imprecision was too often a team feature. Always in market for a poach, one natty ‘SBW’ offload ... and then crisp, key involvement off back of scrum in Du Preez’s try.

Schalk Burger: 7.5

Twenty-six carries! That is quite some statistic, and underlined yet again that Burger just doesn’t “do” anonymity in a Bok jersey. Always big on scrambling defence when required, too. The veteran was official man of the match, even if I rated him a fraction below one or two others, for the little it matters. Maybe Boks overdo using him in No 10 channel a tad?

Francois Louw: 6.5

Visiting pundit Lewis Moody called beforehand for more carrying and linking by the open-sider, who does this well for Bath. He responded to good degree, especially in first half; one terrific charge. Customary good industry at close quarters.

Lood de Jager: 6.5

Wales had clearly done their homework on the tall-timber ball-carrier; tribute to his lively pool-phase play at this tournament. So they closed his channels down pretty often ... but that didn’t mean he was “quiet”. Also confident on own lineout ball, though possibly needed to help “clean” more in Boks’ scratchy first half. 

Eben Etzebeth: 6.5

Seldom shirks coalface duties, and that applied again here. Some unusual concentration lapses, and penalised once or twice at rucks.

Frans Malherbe: 6

Perhaps not quite enough evidence yet to suggest he should be automatic starter now in tighthead spot? Boks had some good scrums, and disappointing ones. Pinged for a side entry, but couple of sure-handed carries.

Bismarck du Plessis: 6

Made important early tackle on meaty wing George North when danger signs flashed. Dropped a ball in contact once, but showed courage in returning to park after treatment to what first seemed fairly serious forearm/hand injury.  

Tendai Mtawarira: 5.5

Not one of “Beast’s” better Test matches, in truth. Failed to really impose himself at scrum-time and few of his trademark, forceful drives on display.

Standout substitute:

Willem Alberts: 7  

I suggested during lead-up week that the Bone Collector might yet make a mark on this World Cup ... and even in a mere 12 minutes in this one, he made a vital, brawny contribution against a tiring Welsh side. Big carries and hits, and was in safe possession a second or two before the Boks kicked the ball out to secure the win. Adriaan Strauss, Trevor Nyakane and Jannie du Plessis pulled their weight, too.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing.

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