Boks: Tight-five silver lining

2015-10-31 13:06
Eben Etzebeth

Cape Town – Well, we were served up the cold and sloppy seconds we always feared might be presented.

The Springboks duly bashed their way inelegantly to the RWC 2015 consolation prize of bronze status by seeing off a hotchpotch, weakened Argentina 24-13 at London’s Olympic Stadium on Friday.

Third place at the tournament is better than a kick in the teeth, so let’s be as grateful as possible for that.

 South Africa did what they had to do in the game nobody especially likes or wants, and ensured a victorious send-off for several illustrious veterans.

As a glimpse of the potential future, though, the fixture did little – if anything – to arrest clearly waning public and press approval for the Heyneke Meyer coaching regime.

In short, the Boks continue to look willing and tough to crack, but also painfully behind the times for skill and adventure.

If you wanted to pocket a silver lining, it probably came through the commanding performances of three tight-five components who will certainly grace future World Cups.

Eben Etzebeth led the way, looking as switched-on and robust as he has done pretty much throughout the event, and props Frans Malberhe and Trevor Nyakane (the latter off the bench for the whole second half) weren’t far behind.

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

Willie le Roux: 6

Still seems to drift in and out of play more than you would like ... but also centrally involved in welcome, polished lead-up play to both Bok tries on night when that wasn’t evident often.

JP Pietersen: 5.5

Very little came his way, such is the stifling current Bok game-plan, but reminded of his finishing threat near try-line by squeezing over at flag in sixth minute.    

Jesse Kriel: 5

Would show his proper value on attack if ball sent his way much more in space; ongoing shortcomings on defence came quite alarmingly to fore, though.

Damian de Allende: 6     

Assertive on defence and strong on feet, as is becoming customary. But has slipped gradually into one-dimensional habits along with Bok “attack” script.

Bryan Habana: 5

As his captain on the night said afterwards, perhaps tried too hard (and in vain) to bag that elusive try to take him ahead of Jonah Lomu at RWCs. Hands let him down increasingly ...

Handre Pollard: 5

Isn’t properly empowered to be No 10 “general” and it is having an effect on performance. Fine floated pass that nearly sent Habana away once, but will be remembered more here for embarrassing failure to find required touch with simple, yet fatally under-weighted attacking penalty kick!

Ruan Pienaar: 5

Bright start as Boks showed short-lived, ball-in-hand promise, and suitably sharp and accurate service at times. But kicked excessively, and a touch too far. Should have come off earlier for Rudy Paige, who got token three minutes.

Duane Vermeulen: 7

 Has had more rousing games, but then this was no rousing occasion. Still, consummate pro throughout with unfaltering work-rate. Some poaches, and generally very strong over the ball at rucks.

Schalk Burger: 5.5

Emotional, final RWC match (and broader Test swansong too?) for this iconic warrior and perhaps that very distraction affected his performance. Has put in mighty shifts at this event; it caught up with him a bit in this one.

Francois Louw: 6

Found it hard to replicate storming showing against All Blacks last week, but was going quite well until he started leaking penalties to disrupt Bok continuity wishes.

Victor Matfield: 7

Fittingly industrious swansong in 127th green-and-gold appearance. Bowed out with honour, including high tackle count and one forceful charge near Pumas line.

Eben Etzebeth: 8.5

One-foot-on-the-plane syndrome? It’s a phenomenon in rugby, but nobody told Etzebeth. Just turned 24 (a day before the game), produced probably his most complete showing of tournament. Always in very thick of things, whether at muscular close quarters or in athletic scrambling duties. Next few years safe in No 4 shirt.  

Frans Malherbe: 8

Like Etzebeth, fine all-round display. Only got better as this RWC progressed. Assertive at scrums, some purposeful carries and plenty of tackles.

Bismarck du Plessis: 5.5  

No disgrace, and combative in early exchanges. But stays some way off near-unmatchable, personal force of two or three years back.

Tendai Mtawarira: 5.5

Stuck to his set-piece guns assuredly, and that’s usually a tick for a prop. But another game where carrying virtually absent. Looks in need of his off-season.

Standout substitute:

Trevor Nyakane: 7

If the “Beast” has arguably gone past his peak, then the pleasing rise of Nyakane bodes well for Japan 2019 (and before it). Didn’t take backward step in his 40 minutes at scrum-time, and constructive in open play.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing.

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