Bok bounce-back: Schalk shines

Schalk Burger (Gallo Images)
Schalk Burger (Gallo Images)

Cape Town – The coach is normally exempted from these ratings, but Heyneke Meyer would have scored fairly highly for selection astuteness as the Springboks shrugged off the Dublin hiccup to outfox England at Twickenham on Saturday.

They were good value -- if still some way off their best -- for this 31-28 triumph, one which slightly flattered the hosts in scoreboard terms as the Boks were perhaps two scores better and victims of dubious officiating at times.

While the five changes Meyer made to the starting line-up possibly seemed a little extreme in midweek, at least three of them paid strong dividends as long-serving loose forward Schalk Burger and the all-Sharks halfback combo of Pat Lambie and Cobus Reinach excelled in a clash marked by a rousing second half after stilted, mutually nervy first 40 minutes.

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

Willie le Roux: 7

Opposite number Mike Brown was bothersome too, but Le Roux often kept England guessing with his deft touches and unorthodoxy. Gave final pass in thrilling 41st-minute SA try, made one blindside burst that nearly led to another, and thought he’d scored just after the final siren, only to have been ruled to have just knocked on.

JP Pietersen: 6

Solid, imposing presence early on, when England tested Bok shape on defence but lacked nous to crack it. Some lapses in concentration later, but generally more visible than Cornal Hendricks was against Ireland at right wing.

Jan Serfontein: 6.5

Muscular, committed figure in Boks’ fan-out defence. Good anticipation in streaking clear for intercept try in first half.

Jean de Villiers: 6.5

Astute leadership much of the time, even if one spurning of three-point opportunity seemed silly: would have taken Boks two scores clear at advanced stage. Forceful, alert tackles when they were particularly needed.

Bryan Habana: 5.5

Not a lot went for him here, at a ground where he’s thrived previously. Unjustly ruled once to have carried ball out in kick receipt when replays showed otherwise, and penalised on a couple of other occasions by Steve Walsh. Continued his reputation for winning the odd, precious steal.

Pat Lambie: 7

Loses half a point for that major oopsie in overcooking quest for touch from attacking penalty at vital time! But that’s pretty much where the negatives end: impressive in almost all other ways, including delicate chip to spark Reinach try (see below). Put a nail in England coffin with cool late dropped goal. Spirited defence of his channel.

Cobus Reinach: 7  

On this evidence, could be a while before unfortunate Francois Hougaard gets another start for a top-tier Test. Kicking game see-sawed between poor and good, but otherwise lively, constructive and made some tigerish tackles too. Elegantly rounded off best try of match soon after break.

Duane Vermeulen: 7.5  

At the coalface all the time: just seems so determined never to have a humdrum Test! Force at breakdown, in tackling and ball-carrying, and earned a lineout poach. Outplayed direct rival Billy Vunipola, who made yards every now and then but sometimes looked as clumsy as a donkey on a Parisian fashion catwalk.

Schalk Burger: 8

Still “The Incredible Schalk” ... great comeback showing as a Bok starter, and his experience in so big and hostile a cauldron proved invaluable. Quite tremendous endurance, especially in Bok defensive play. Earned deserved try off maul, and once picked up awkward ball beautifully on fingertips to confirm subtle side to his modern make-up.

Marcell Coetzee: 7

Herculean effort, considering some lead-up fitness concern. Never wavered in energy on defence and presence at heart of Bok driving play – helped power Burger over try-line.

Victor Matfield: 5.5

Rating may look a little harsh ... but you have to mark the veteran unusually down for his costly yellow card which saw 14-man Boks concede two converted tries in his absence and breathe fresh life into hosts.

Eben Etzebeth: 6.5

Still awaiting that true barnstormer this season from the big No 4. Good game nevertheless: driving tackles, fine grab from cheeky short England kick-off, and won penalty at ruck as reward for work-rate. 

Jannie du Plessis: 6

Less influential than in his welcome, rousing game in Dublin. Scrum went backwards twice in first half, before stabilising. Did his bit as “stopper” when Boks were under whip from tide of white jerseys. Off with leg injury in 65th minute.

Adriaan Strauss: 6.5

Busy, as you’d expect of him, and accurate with lineout throwing. Lost one ball in collision ... and maybe not quite enough evidence to persuade that he’s a better regular starting bet than powerhouse Bismarck du Plessis.

Tendai Mtawarira: 6

Under pressure in one or two scrums, but mostly sturdy there. Important element of several Bok rolling mauls with his leg-drive.

Standout substitute:

Coenie Oosthuizen: 6.5    

Not a game where the reserves played a particularly significant role for the Boks, but the barrelling prop pulled his weight impressively in open play for 15 minutes, with some energetic defence and one strong carry.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing
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