Cape Town – Many of us were slightly anxious … why wouldn’t you be against these All Blacks? We didn’t expect the apocalypse, though.
Yet it came: the Springboks of September 16, 2017 are now unwanted owners of the heaviest defeat in scoreboard terms in the history of our national rugby side, courtesy of the 57-0 (try count 8-0) Castle Rugby Championship debacle at Albany on Saturday.
The match was so pitifully one-sided, especially after the first quarter, that the All Black coaching panel almost had sorrowful rather than gleeful looks on their faces at the final whistle, knowing that the once-premier bilateral rivalry simply is no longer that in the professional era.
For a while, initially, the All Blacks got the rub of the green to an extent from referee Nigel Owens, but once they had gone two or three scores up – the Boks simply aren’t geared for crisp catch-up rugby against these foes – the world champions only turned the screws ruthlessly to render any officiating gripes meaningless.
The Boks were stubbornly weak in areas they have been flimsy in for several weeks anyway – like the back three, where Allister Coetzee has been guilty of quite baffling selection inertia – but it didn’t help that supposed strongpoints like the lineout went absolutely awry, too, on the gruesome night.
Progress in 2017? It has been violently halted, and this sobering result is bound to leave a few mental scars in its wake.
Here’s how I rated the Boks out of 10 at QBE Stadium:
Andries Coetzee: 4
One or two instances of skilful stepping, but that’s pretty much where it ended. Bad, sometimes costly options taken on defence, kicked out on the full once, and also had a ball ripped too easily from his grasp.
Raymond Rhule: 2.5
The Boks have been carrying a passenger for months, and it is high, high time for a merciful uncoupling from the train. Desperately frail on defence, which only enhanced a field day for the blistering powerhouse Rieko Ioane against him. One fine snatch of a high ball on the touchline, for minimal redemption.
Jesse Kriel: 4.5
Few really criminal lapses, in fairness, on wretched day for Bok backs generally. But negligible thrust, passed a ball straight into touch and leaked off-side penalty.
Jan Serfontein: 4
Too clearly receding into a past penchant for “not looking up”, thus stifling attack possibilities around him. Some imprecise tackles as well.
Courtnall Skosan: 3.5
It just too often looked as if there was nobody home in the No 11 berth, with NZ making strong inroads down his side. Was fatally sucked in-field a couple of times when hosts flung it wide.
Elton Jantjies: 5.5
Give him some credit for effort, especially in defending more resolutely than certain colleagues in back division. Some clever touches, but also errors in tactical kicking, and conceded penalty for high tackle.
Francois Hougaard: 3.5
Not for the first time in recent Test appearances, failed to bring calmness or direction in his important No 9 position. Shocking handling gaffe on one occasion, and banged out of an aerial contest out wide that led to NZ try.
Uzair Cassiem: 4.5
Started the match with admirable purpose, including quick lineout poach and a promising drive. Wishy-washy thereafter, though, and still looks too makeshift at eighth-man.
Jean-Luc du Preez: 5
Brought some rugged energy and industry to the blindside flank, even as different beast Jaco Kriel’s stealth was missed. But threw intercepted pass leading to second All Black try and an already ominous 17-0 lead …
Siya Kolisi: 5
A stand-out for much of the season so far, he dipped here in line with broader team woes. Still, made some firmer hits than most, and a couple of surges. Must carry some culpability as No 6 for too much ponderous ball from breakdowns.
Franco Mostert: 4.5
Inconspicuous Test from someone more customarily renowned for tireless engine. Physically bossed a bit, it seemed.
Eben Etzebeth: 5
Increasingly muted leadership as the rot set in, which may fuel his captaincy critics … but which skipper could really have curtailed the NZ avalanche here anyway? Moderately good at close quarters, but this (for a man of high standards) was one of his leaner personal showings in a Bok jersey.
Ruan Dreyer: 4.5
Hasn’t had a lot of rugby in recent weeks and it showed, as Bok scrum subsided from rousing start. Pinged twice, including for knees going to ground at set-piece.
Malcolm Marx: 4.5
Up to Albany, had been a Bok success story of 2017, and his work at ruck-time was still OK in this Test. But a sickener at lineout time for the hooker: you might say he wouldn’t have found his jumpers if he’d looked in a drawer marked “jerseys”, alas.
Tendai Mtawarira: 6
For the 40-plus minutes he was on the park, I suggest he was the one Bok player who demonstrated proper “personality”. A couple of monster scrum efforts, and spirited drives. Deserved a slightly longer shift?
Rudy Paige: 6
He has his imperfections, but Paige is seldom without some ticker, either. In just 21 minutes of activity, the reserve scrumhalf brought a bit of sorely-needed urgency and intent to the role, with a nice mini-break near the NZ posts and also a gutsy, try-saving defensive intervention right on the Bok line.
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