Cape Town - If South Africa “broke down” at the breakdown in their imperfect victory over Scotland, they found inspiring mechanics for the very necessary repair job against Samoa at Loftus on Saturday.
The 2013 Springboks and their coach Heyneke Meyer are clearly fast learners from errant ways, because their contrasting domination of that area this time was a major influencing factor in their purposeful, gutsy 56-23 dismantling of the typically robust Pacific Islanders.
Strangleholds at ruck-time and in collisions more broadly - with starting flankers Francois Louw and Willem Alberts to the fore - paved the way for the impressive home win against opponents who retreated increasingly into cynical habits as the life was slowly squeezed out of them.
Here’s how I rated the Bok starting XV:
15 Willie le Roux: 7.5
Made a notably shaky start, no doubt to the consternation of his swelling fan club, with an elementary ball-spill and then forward pass ... but only got better and better thereafter. A key, space-creating architect of several Bok tries and attacking moves, he has a happy habit of ghosting in from seemingly nowhere to spark things.
14 Bryan Habana: 7
It’s tough having to mark powerhouse Alesana Tuilagi, but then Habana has never lacked anything in bravery and this was another whole-hearted performance by the veteran who chased, scurried and scrambled and was duly rewarded with two tries – including his 50th for the Boks. Pity about that little professional foul and attached “yellow”, which loses him half a point.
13 JJ Engelbrecht: 7.5
Regressed a little at Mbombela after his bright start to the Test season against Italy, but here the lanky Bulls midfield dynamo restored standards in a big way. Showed fine pace and power for his first-half try, and is making a strong case for retention in the Castle Rugby Championship.
12 Jean de Villiers: 7
Just keeps on “pitching up”, doesn’t he? Captain Courageous for 70 minutes, until his deserved invitation to rest, not too long after surviving with a smile a red-card “chiropractor” tackle from Tuilagi. Typically stout defensively, but also reminded of his old link-play abilities.
11 Bjorn Basson: 6.5
Competently handled everything that came his way, even if Habana’s side of the field tended to be busier in offensive play. Good round-off job for a try in the last minute before half-time.
10 Morne Steyn: 7
After bumbling his way through the Scotland game, played with so much more zest and all-roundedness at his most beloved ground. Crisp distribution in some exhilarating backline plays, and also made one very alert, potentially try-saving tackle. Probably wished to have fared a little better off the tee.
9 Ruan Pienaar: 6.5
With that languid body language of his, sometimes can give the impression he’s half asleep, and did fumble once. But served evidence of his strong kicking game, and coolly set up Habana’s second dot-down. Sound enough 67 minutes, until Piet van Zyl got some game-time.
8 Pierre Spies: 5.5
Subbed at the break - whether he had an injury was not immediately clear - but had again failed to deliver a suitably busy display anyway. Easily the least visible loosie, and knocked on once at the back of a scrum. Did claim some clean lineout grabs.
7 Willem Alberts: 8
I had recently dared to suggest the “Bone Collector” might not be a convincing 80-minute Test player: this was an immense retort. A huge success at both blindside flank and then No 8 in second half. Thumping tackles to give Samoans taste of own medicine, some turnovers, and fierce ball-carries.
6 Francois Louw: 8
Just seems born to play Test rugby, even if he made a slightly late start. Played as if he owed the team something after being given last week off for nuptial purposes. Prominent as ever in breakdown area, but supplemented that with burgeoning charges – two tries fitting reward for constant energy.
5 Flip van der Merwe: 7
Unquestionably gave Boks more tight-five grunt, so essential against these foes. Adapted well to middle-of-lineout chore, got stuck into collisions, and spun out deft pass to initiate move leading to Basson’s try.
4 Eben Etzebeth: 7.5
Another hugely pleasing, never-flagging effort by this only 21-year-old “veteran”. Makes plenty of tackles, not all of them especially visible, always up for the physical stuff and confident lineout presence. Kept his temper in check on a tetchy afternoon, too.
3 Jannie du Plessis: 7
Much more active in general play, with regular tackles and cleanouts. Also did his bit at tighthead in ensuring quick scrum go-forward for Boks.
2 Adriaan Strauss: 7
Some unusual imprecision last time out, but here the hooker was back to professional, methodical best. Pinpoint lineout accuracy, solid tight-loose contribution... and almost deserves a sympathy point for surviving that objectionable squeeze he got where the sun don’t shine.
1 Tendai Mtawarira: 7
See Jannie du Plessis, really!
*Regarding the substitutes, Siya Kolisi was given the whole of the second half (although he did have to go off for a concussion check) and scores a solid enough six; he was not as prominent as in last week’s rousing Nelspruit debut. Most others weren’t on long enough to be rated in an all-embracing way.
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