Cape Town – A sloppy, disjointed Test match at Loftus perhaps needed an individual spark to crucially influence the outcome … and it came through a thunderous showing by Springbok right wing S’bu Nkosi.
His brace of tries -- the second a marvellous combination of skill, power and sheer bulldog conviction in limited space – went a long way to ensuring that the Boks retained their unbeaten record in 2019 with a tense 24-18 victory over improved Argentina on Saturday.
Both countries had made sweeping changes from the Rugby Championship clash in Salta, and that probably explained the broadly insipid, stop-start nature of this swift return fixture.
The Pumas could just as easily have come out on top, and will lament a borderline verdict of obstruction way back in the move that they thought had earned a potentially match-tilting try to debutant centre Lucas Mensa in the last quarter.
Instead the overwhelmingly second-string Boks ground out the result in their favour, and an ugly win can still be a useful device toward perfecting standards, maintaining squad morale and keeping people humble in pursuit of loftier, onward goals …
Here’s how I rated the Boks in Pretoria:
Warrick Gelant: 5.5
Same affliction as senior fullback Willie le Roux of late: a feeling he’s a bit off his best. Burst into line to provide final pass for Nkosi’s first try, but had a sluggish left-footed kick charged down that would have conceded a try but for a knock-on spotted in TMO review.
S’bu Nkosi: 8.5
The Sharks terrier is averaging almost a try every Test in his fledgling career: the pair at Loftus means he sports seven after eight matches, only underlining his appetite as a poacher. There was plenty of work to be done when he was “teed up” on each occasion against the Pumas … and his leg-strength, elusiveness and courage were right to the fore. Nkosi was also assured in aerial combat, another area where his game gathers momentum at a rate of knots. Pleasant RWC problem at Bok right wing!
Jesse Kriel: 7
Ensured he stays in a ding-dong battle with Lukhanyo Am for first-choice status at No 13. Defensively sound and aware, won a fine turnover, and made clever lobbed pass to Nkosi for his second try. Led the decent Bok line-speed, which sometimes rattled the Pumas’ back division.
Andre Esterhuizen: 6
Still lacking a bit in subtle qualities. That said, the big inside centre made some effective carries, especially in defensive-relief situations, and thumping tackles.
Dillyn Leyds: 6
Hardly his fault that very little front-foot action came the way of this attack-conscious player. Made a safe catch or two, and kick-chasing wasn’t bad either.
Elton Jantjies: 7
Couldn’t seem to impose himself strategically in first period, but grew ever more admirably into the game. Beautiful pass in lead-up to first Nkosi dot-down, and place-kicking was largely spot-on (5/6) including some successes from good distances out.
Cobus Reinach: 5
First Springbok start for him since Wales in Cardiff in late 2014, and just looked a little out-of-sync with Bok systems. The interception of his risky, long pass near the halfway line just before the break, for a Pumas gift try, was a costly error. Made the odd nippy break.
Marcell Coetzee: 6.5
Developing an injury jinx against these opponents, specifically. Forced off with concussion after a head clash in 16th minute, after doing knee ligament damage in his last Bok start against them back in 2015 (Durban). Had already been showing pleasing signs of effectiveness over the ball and broader prominence before the mishap.
Rynhardt Elstadt: 6
Got away with some borderline reckless interventions in the first half, although there was no doubting his trademark abrasive relish. More composed after halftime and kept up a very solid graft-rate, including one important tidy-up of a loose ball when a Pumas try beckoned.
Siya Kolisi: 7
Best of the Bok loosies … the fact that he stayed on for 53 minutes (more than some had anticipated on Test comeback) further indicated that. Made a sharp early mini-break, some rib-rattling tackles, and aided Kriel in securing a key turnover. Unjustly pinged for an early tackle just before being subbed.
Lood de Jager: 6.5
Skilful play in the lead-up to Nkosi’s opening try, with an attack angle-shifting pass. Busied himself consistently for 66 minutes to confirm he’s regaining his overall mojo after long-term injury.
RG Snyman: 6
Was more prominent after the break, though otherwise this was one of the lanky No 4’s slightly more subdued Test matches. Did help apply good pressure on Argentine lineout throw.
Vincent Koch: 6.5
One of his less destructive days as scrum anchor as the hastily-cobbled Bok combo struggled for any special rhythm there. Penalised once for offside. But extremely lively and industrious about the park -- including with one thumping tackle on Joaquin Tuculet off a speedy “run-up”.
Schalk Brits: 6.5
His massive experience came in handy as leader in a tight tussle, and his lineout throwing was pinpoint as the Boks won all 14 of their own. Grafted hard in general play, even if he couldn’t make hugely notable yards with ball in hand.
Thomas du Toit: 5.5
Has to be marked down on the grounds that his scrummaging wasn’t assertive enough, and he leaked a penalty or two there. But he was busy enough elsewhere, including some strong carries and hits.
Faf de Klerk: 6.5
Not always the type of player you’d describe as responsible for “calming things down” but that was pretty much what he did when he replaced the iffy Reinach after 70 minutes. He was an animated organiser, sometimes box-kicked well and was unlucky when a long touch-finder just went out on the full and play was called back.
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