Cape Town – The 2017 Springboks are showing signs of plenty more, but the recapturing of their collective self-respect is the best feature of all in two Tests thus far.
Warren Whiteley’s urgent, passionate team put the three-match series against France to bed early as they opened up a 2-0 lead by way of a pleasingly multi-layered 37-15 triumph in Durban on Saturday.
Against a stronger visiting XV than started the first Test (a 37-14 outcome) in Pretoria, the score-line was virtually identical but the Bok performance actually better in several respects.
Not only did they take their own opportunities clinically and sometimes attractively, but they were put to a really searching, prolonged examination of their defensive mettle and ticked that box outstandingly on a day when they were forced into nearly three times as many tackles as their opponents.
There were standouts galore in the Springbok ranks – how often could you say that in miserable 2016? – but Siya Kolisi was official player-of-the-match and headed the Sport24 card compellingly as well.
Here’s how I rated the Boks out of 10 at Kings Park:
Andries Coetzee: 6
Few opportunities to be properly influential. Defensive alignment left bit to be desired as French struck with early try, but otherwise did basics competently enough.
Raymond Rhule: 7
Little came his way … so went looking for work, and pretty illuminatingly. One dangerous early snipe, and then got stuck into earnest defensive chores, including key intercept with Boks under huge pressure, and committed track-back tackle on flying French wing Virimi Vakatawa.
Lionel Mapoe: 6.5
Once again, on his 12th Bok appearance, stopped just a bit short of announcing “here to stay”. One or two handling lapses, but also ran a couple of shrewd lines, and adhesive in the tackle department.
Jan Serfontein: 8
One of his best Bok games; former national captain and inside centre Jean de Villiers went so far as to brand him “sublime” at No 12. Heartening organisational presence, fiercely committed, and scorer of possibly SA’s most easy-on-the-eye try.
Courtnall Skosan: 6.5
French kept their game-plan stubbornly tight, so not much regular activity for anyone in wider channels. But one deft dart during second half, and usually well alert to danger on retreat.
Elton Jantjies: 7
Belatedly beginning to show he CAN play with polish and composure for a South African team that isn’t the Lions. Tenacious and calm at flyhalf, despite one missed touch from a penalty, kicked his goals to near-perfection and on hand to apply finishing touches for final Bok dot-down.
Ross Cronje: 7
Long way to go yet before he becomes a Fourie du Preez, but budding signs of the type of sensible game management overdue at scrumhalf from Boks. Some decent box kicks, crisp service at right times, and one try-saving last-ditch tackle.
Warren Whiteley: 7.5
When the whole team plays with such gusto, you have to assume at least some credit to the captaincy, yes? Individually, Whiteley shone in this one too, with lovely occasional running lines, vigorous kick chasing, lineout assuredness and energetic work over the ball at breakdowns.
Oupa Mohoje: Not rated
Fairly innocuous in the difficult Bok first few minutes before his game-ending injury in 13th, but just too little time for a justifiable rating, in fairness.
Siya Kolisi: 9
Absolute humdinger. Arguably even superior to his famous 2013 debut against Scotland at Nelspruit, where he was a fifth-minute “supersub” for luckless Arno Botha. Classic opensider’s performance: eternally industrious at breakdown, marvellous handling, cunning opportunism, and some quite thrilling spells of linking and stretch-the-legs play.
Franco Mostert: 8
We always knew he was a tight-five workaholic for the Lions; underlined here in just his second Test start. Ran a tight lineout ship, hit rucks, and above all put in untiring defensive shift – best evidenced when French applied long periods of nail-biting goal-line pressure in second period. Somehow almost seems to lift a notch while others tire as the sands run out …
Eben Etzebeth: 7.5
Easily the more senior of this budding new lock firm, the big bruiser played his part in ensuring a commendable tackle count from the SA second-rowers. Has had more assertive days on the rampage and in lineouts, but that’s not saying he lacked endeavour in any way.
Frans Malherbe: 7
Good to see bits of “mongrel” from the tighthead not always demonstrated during Super Rugby for Stormers thus far. Robust presence at close quarters in general play, made an aggressive steal, and no special problems at the set-piece.
Malcolm Marx: 7.5
Just a little less barnstorming than at Loftus a week earlier, but another dynamic, muscular display from the emerging hooker. Fast losing that Super Rugby reputation for lineout-throw yips, too.
Tendai Mtawarira: 6.5
Conceded two penalties (one for pulling scrum down, another for tackling man without ball) so must be marked down a tad. But also won a scrum penalty back, and celebrated animatedly to demonstrate how up for this Test he was, too.
Jean-Luc du Preez: 7
Energetic second-half stuff from Steven Kitshoff, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Coenie Oosthuizen as well, but the strapping Sharks blind-sider got on in the 13th minute and grabbed this extended chance with both hands. Fine leg drive, brawny hold-up tackles, broad enthusiasm … should become a starter imminently.
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