Habana pick of the Bok crop

Bryan Habana (Gallo Images)
Bryan Habana (Gallo Images)
Cape Town -- This was touted as the start of a brave new world for the Springboks, with several rookies getting their big break ... instead a nine-year Test veteran stole the thunder.

South Africa’s mostly satisfying, international season-opening 44-10 victory over a motivated Italy at Kings Park on Saturday saw Bryan Habana light the fuse for a welcome, up-tempo performance by the Boks – at least when they got their hands on the ball – and then play a major role in keeping it burning after a slightly worrisome third-quarter spell of sustained dominance by the tourists.

The wing flier turns 30 on Wednesday, and chose his last Test match as a twenty-something to also produce one of the most incisive games of his illustrious career.

Here’s how I rated the Bok starting XV:

15 Willie le Roux: 7.5
Tremendously satisfying debut, and that after the onerous weight of pre-match hype around him! Assertive and refreshingly unpredictable in attacking play, but especially heartening were some defensive moments, like a key tackle on Sergio Parisse and important aerial grab under real pressure behind the try-line.

14 Bryan Habana: 9

Knife through hot butter ... first in sizzling infield burst to set up JJ Engelbrecht for a try, then once more in 66th minute when Boks were badly in need of fresh momentum and he sprinted over majestically himself from Adriaan Strauss’s long overhead pass. Racking up some really decent Bok showings at No 14, out of his more familiar terrain.

13 JJ Engelbrecht: 7.5

Confirmed his consistent appetite and thrust this season at outside centre. Slippery and long-striding with ball in hand, and made his tackles too. Suffered just a tad from composure going AWOL near the try-line on two occasions.

12 Jean de Villiers: 6.5
Desperately overplayed in Super Rugby thus far, and touch-and-go with a hamstring twinge earlier in the week – compelling enough game under those circumstances, including strength and industry on defence and good “at the shoulder” running against left touchline to streak in for own dot-down.

11 Bjorn Basson: 7
Quiet first period through no real fault of his own, quickly followed by high-tackle yellow card (not long after which Italians registered lone try). But got better and better as game progressed. Excellent counter-attacking awareness and opportunism, including try from intercept.

10 Morne Steyn: 7
Slightly less than complete as a No 10 “general” on the day, but give him his due ... the 2013 Steyn certainly has immeasurable amounts of confidence back. Kicked his goals with trademark precision and had some twinkle-toed moments in possession, including deft layoff of occasional inside passes.

9 Jano Vermaak: 6.5
Was giving generally precise, swift service, the scrumhalf’s core value, until his sadly torn hamstring fractionally ahead of the hour-mark. Did get caught in possession around the ruck fringes a few times, but might have been better protected.  

8 Pierre Spies: 6
Not great, not awful. Made a busy start, despite an early fumble, and did willing close-quarters work that may have gone undetected by some in the stands. But retained frustrating reputation for becoming too anonymous at times in his key slot.

7 Arno Botha: 7.5
Feverishly energetic for lion’s share of the match, the Bulls man can look back on a strong flank debut. Excellent at halting some Italians mauls, directed the traffic during Boks’ concerted pack rumble for first try, and as ex-Italy coach Nick Mallett observed, made critical tackles when badly needed.

6 Francois Louw: 7
Seldom plays a bad Bok game, and this was no different. Knows the breakdown laws well, so tends to get referees handily in his “corner”. Playing for Bath abroad has clearly only increased his rugby wisdom.

5 Juandre Kruger: 5.5
Has had better Tests. Helped put early pressure on Italian lineout, but receded gradually, and was first tight five call-off (for Bulls team-mate Flip van der Merwe) by Heyneke Meyer as Italians developed a surprising foothold for notable 20 minutes after the break.

4 Eben Etzebeth: 6.5
Supportive giant in mauling play, particularly during first quarter when Boks laid down promising marker, and also made plenty of tackles. But must take some responsibility for a couple of botched home-throw line-outs and slack collective kick-offs management. 

3 Jannie du Plessis: 5.5
Still short of best form as supposed scrum anchoring man, and clearly paying a price for over-use at all levels over last 18 months or so.

2 Adriaan Strauss: 7
Began like house on fire, and seemingly unstoppable on the drive ... richly warranted first Bok try from rolling maul. Gave well-judged last pass for Habana’s touchdown much later in contest. Will be disappointed a couple of lineouts went pear-shaped.

1 Tendai Mtawarira: 6
The Beast has gone a bit “south-east” form-wise this year. Nothing like the popular dynamo of old. Got involved in a few early carries and defensive chores, but seemed to tire late on and was part of some back-pedalling set pieces that require attention.

*Most of the substitutes were not on the field for long enough to warrant ratings, although reserve loosehead prop Trevor Nyakane seemed to help notably restore some stability to a wonky scrum for a few minutes near the end.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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