The Springboks’ Rugby World Cup campaign finally got off to a start from a scoreboard perspective, but quite what value – other than the five points – they would have gained from their thrashing of a hapless Namibia is a mystery.
With their opening defeat against New Zealand last weekend, where the Boks failed to get a losing bonus point, having suggested the coaching team’s preferred “starting” 23 could use some refreshment, it was hoped that the clash against neighbours Namibia would provide pointers about the rest of the players in the squad who are ready to step up.
As if playing against a Namibia side with only eight full-time professionals in the squad of 31 in Japan wasn’t already going to make that mission difficult, Phil Jones went some way towards making it impossible by naming his second-string side for the clash.
In the end, the Boks – who had scored 19 points by the first quarter and 50 by the time there were 20 minutes to go – put nine tries, two each from hooker Bongi Mbonambi and winger Makazole Mapimpi, past the Namibian defence for an expected and handsome victory.
The Boks scrum put their counterparts on roller skates for the majority of the game, and four of the Boks’ tries came from driving mauls. But one couldn’t escape the feeling that, as much as they dominated possession, they left points on the table.
While the backline looked full of running, it had a touch of over-eagerness about it, which led to inaccuracies in execution.
It didn’t help that the Namibians were up for it in defence, sometimes illegally, as the penalty count and three yellow cards suggested.
Looking at players who might have pressed for higher honours, it’s difficult to look past lock Lood de Jager, who was tireless in the carry, claimed the lion’s share of the line-out possession and never let up his intensity for the 80 minutes he played.
Scrum half Herschel Jantjies was typically lively with his delivery, but namesake Elton Jantjies at fly half mixed some good touches with glaring errors where he missed three of his kicks at goal, kicked an out of hand penalty dead and added handling errors to an untidy performance.
Inside centre Frans Steyn looked to be making a play for Damian de Allende’s play early on in the game, putting in a burst of speed no longer associated with him and carrying with purpose.
But as the game wore on, he appeared to wilt in the heat and humidity. Fullback Warrick Gelant had a gilt-edged opportunity to make the flat Willie le Roux’s life uncomfortable, but he, too, had touches where he was the Gelant we know and love at Super Rugby level interspersed with the muted, surprisingly error-prone player we’ve seen in a Springbok jersey.
But as coach Rassie Erasmus said after the game, the players stuck to the plan for the day, which was to get five points from the game.