Ref wrecked Habana’s ‘party’

Cape Town – It will come as no consolation at all to Bryan Habana that he rated the most dangerous Springbok backline player on the Sport24 scorecard in Saturday’s controversial 24-23 Castle Rugby Championship defeat to Australia in Perth.

As it happened: Wallabies v Springboks

VIDEO: Duane Vermeulen's HUG tackle on James Slipper

There is a mounting jinx attached to Bok players celebrating their 100th caps, as the Boks increasingly find themselves playing second fiddle on such occasions to mar the milestone - ask John Smit and Percy Montgomery.

It was no different here.

But what makes Habana’s ton-up game especially mortifying is that he was on the grossly rough end of a yellow-card decision against him by Irish referee George Clancy at a key late stage of the contest when South Africa held a commanding nine-point lead and looked for all money like grinding out an imperfect, yet just about deserved win.

His desperate 66th-minute tackle on a flying Adam Ashley-Cooper was a little high and did merit a penalty, but was in no way malicious ... and the amazing thing was that Clancy still saw fit to brandish the card after a TMO viewing only seemed to confirm the player’s innocence.

It was the second time in two Championship seasons that the Boks have had their big-match - and by extension possibly title - chances crippled by lamentable officialdom: the Romain Poite/Bismarck du Plessis flashpoint against the All Blacks in 2013 comes to mind.

Earlier, there was the added irony of another standout Bok player on the day falling foul of Clancy’s eccentricity when Duane Vermeulen conceded a (duly goaled by the hosts) penalty for a ton-of-bricks but legal tackle on James Slipper.

That said, the Boks were also their own worst enemies in many respects for not having the nous or cool-headedness to close this one out when it was so invitingly there for the taking ...

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

Willie le Roux: 6.5

Flair evident several times, including in smart lead-up work to lone Bok try. Sometimes his tactical kicking effective ... but also two or three occasions where he kicked out on the full.

Cornal Hendricks: 6.5

Sometimes you don’t see him for a fair while – often through no special fault of his own – but then he bursts into the picture at vital moments. Keeps getting on try-sheet, reminding of his finishing hunger and awareness.

Jan Serfontein: 5.5

We probably saw enough confirmation that outside centre channel is not his forte; Bok midfield mix must be rethought. One bizarre up-and-under decision with Boks looking stealthy on attack. That said, it wasn’t all awkward: competitive at breakdowns, some moments of deft hand-work and resolute defence in dying minutes.

Jean de Villiers: 5.5

Not yet back to known influence and sharpness after the significantly delayed start to his international season. Needs to go up a gear soon. Some good, some questionable aspects to his leadership decisions on the day.  

Bryan Habana: 7.5

The injustice meted out on the veteran wing in his ton-up game has been documented above. Otherwise, razor-sharp from limited attacking opportunities; one sniping in-field break from a Bok lineout steal, and thrilling long-range run from deep on another occasion. Secured a turnover as well.   

Morne Steyn: 5

Until the vital last few minutes, things weren’t going too badly for the recalled flyhalf. Mostly landed his goals, and showed some tackling tenacity and flashes of hand skills. But Steyn loses a full point on our card for the way he unravelled in closing stages – that failure to find touch from a penalty was criminal and ultimately so costly.

Ruan Pienaar: 4.5

Slippery, wet conditions seemed tailor-made to his known tactical kicking strengths ... but once again the scrumhalf under-delivered in a Test start. Instead too many of his kicks were inaccurate or wrong option. Sluggish at passing, too. Some moments of alert defending.

Duane Vermeulen: 8

Tops our card as Boks’ best player in game they should have put to bed despite the officiating where he, like Habana, was done an injustice by Clancy. Consistently robust, constructive performance for full game and really got into Aussie faces.

Marcell Coetzee: 7

Did plenty to assure that, although his game is rather different, he is more than capable blindside stand-in when Willem Alberts sidelined. Strong engine, and big supplementary factor  – especially early on – in the pilfering department.    

Francois Louw: 6.5

Gripping breakdown battle was one engaging area in otherwise mediocre clash; Louw was usual sprightly self, though more personal carries might have been useful to cause.   

Victor Matfield: 6

His vast leadership experience in the area helped stabilise a lineout that went pear-shaped too often in Salta, but not especially assertive elsewhere and made one irksome error in being in front of the kicker at a kick-off.   

Eben Etzebeth: 6.5

Not yet back to his A-game as he feels his way back from long injury absence this year. But he’s a restorative work in progress. Honest graft in tight-loose -- and some fine front-of-lineout steals.

Jannie du Plessis: 7

Best Test in some time for the battle-weary tighthead, who found reserves of energy. A couple of fabulous right shoulders in scrums, and upped his tackling and general work-rate elsewhere.

Adriaan Strauss: 6

Competent showing, as you’d expect from this seasoned pro. Accuracy at lineouts a pleasing feature. But does he have the aura of the normal first-choice man at hooker?

Tendai Mtawarira: 5

Still nothing like the force of old, either at scrum-time or for once-famed surges in open play. It’s a concern.

Standout substitute:

Bismarck du Plessis: 7  

If this 19-minute cameo off the bench did one thing, it was confirm that Du Plessis must start against the All Blacks for the sheer “presence” he brings. Gave great breakdown power and energy in his short stay, and responsible for precious late turnover under pressure that should really have been Boks’ passport to victory if only they’d kept composure.  

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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