That things were so seamless in many respects, despite Warren Whiteley’s unfortunate withdrawal at his cherished home franchise ground, spoke volumes for the way Eben Etzebeth, hastily installed as national captain No 60, deputised.
The muscular lock led by example in sheer industry terms, kept his temper well in check in his new capacity, made right calls and engaged smartly at times with Australian referee Angus Gardner, suggesting that the Boks have emerging depth in leadership even when fit-again Whiteley re-assumes his post.
But there were also eye-catching efforts from thoroughly resurgent midfielder Jan Serfontein, who kept his mojo from Durban, Etzebeth’s untiring second-row partner Franco Mostert and one or two others who exceeded “average”.
This Test certainly seemed like a dead
rubber, with plenty of imperfections from both sides, but the Boks went up a
gear when they had to, to take the game right away from the impotent tourists,
and as Nick Mallett observed in the SuperSport studio there was collective
enthusiasm and a pleasing “lack of laziness” through the Bok ranks ...
Here’s how I rated the Boks out of 10 in Johannesburg:
Andries Coetzee: 6
Suitably steady once more, if not quite spectacular yet in the last line of defence. Usually demonstrated safe hands when necessary and came within a hair’s breadth of being credited with a second-half try, TV replays suggesting he had been halted just short.
Raymond Rhule: 4.5
Hmm, there could yet be scope for change in the No 14 jersey, which is not Rhule’s more natural positioning anyway. Desperately few attack chances, but signs of frailty in tackle situations.
Jesse Kriel: 7
At times, reminded of some of his striking 2015 exploits at outside centre for the Boks. A decisive early leg-tackle got his evening off to a fine start, and always sought to be constructive, energetic. Clinical finish for his first-half try at corner flag.
Jan Serfontein: 8
Cherry on top of an inspired series before the Jo’burg faithful: looked totally at home and in charge at No 12. Grafted feverishly, including winning turnovers and even a productive lineout catch to paste in his scrapbook, and one knife-like break only foiled by desperate French ankle-tap.
Courtnall Skosan: 5.5
So little space to work his renowned offensive magic in, which was a shame. Good composure, though, and gutsy aerial ball win a split second before being illegally, awkwardly dumped and badly winded.
Elton Jantjies: 6.5
Not quite as dominating in general play as he had been at Kings Park, but another promising, unruffled showing all the same. Cleared calmly despite a few ropey passes coming his way, and again largely dead-eye off the kicking tee.
Francois Hougaard: 4.5
One notably misfiring link, alas. Always keen as mustard, including engineering a steal, but shortcomings in composure and game-management, plus a few wobbly passes let him down. Ross Cronje will stay at front of scrumhalf pile for the moment ...
Jean-Luc du Preez: 6
Perhaps understandably, not nearly as convincing in his late, enforced switch to No 8 as he had been one Test earlier as a thunderous blindside flank early substitute. A few really firm, drive-back tackles, though.
Jaco Kriel: 6.5
Always endeavoured to do things at a pleasingly high tempo, although curtailed by not-ideal emergency deployment as a No 7, to which he is not best suited in his game style. Still, he won a turnover or two, cleaned up an untidy lineout and had a turbo-charged early rampage.
Siya Kolisi: 6.5
Game of his life in Durban, so the Big Smoke was always going to be a difficult, slightly hiding-to-nothing follow-up. Still highly effective at breakdowns, however, and his tackles were usually proper “stoppers”.
Franco Mostert: 7.5
Trojan … as always, really, whether for Boks or Lions. Consistently good (and sometimes vital) tackling, solid clean-outs and reassuring ruck protection of colleagues. Penalised once for being off feet at breakdown.
Eben Etzebeth: 8
Captaincy element to his scorecard as already discussed above. As player, got about the park zestfully and his physical presence and legal brutality always apparent. Amazing wrestler’s strength to power over try-line from centre Serfontein’s unexpected lineout claim.
Ruan Dreyer: 5.5
Lots of hair ruffling for the debutant as he won a scrum penalty at only the second set-piece. But then he conceded two or three at scrum-time to leave some question marks. Made final offload for Kriel’s try; some cause for satisfaction.
Malcolm Marx: 5.5
Worked healthily on the deck, but his “basics” fell short in this one, with some lineout throw-in angst and, once, a costly fumble in a budding maul initiative.
Tendai Mtawarira: 5.5
Inescapable feeling that the Beast remains in “cruise” mode. Put in his share of honest defensive grunt, especially in first half where Boks sported only a third of territory, but still waiting for the firebrand player of 2009 to truly resurface. Leaked penalty for high tackle.
Steven Kitshoff: 7.5
Played like a man possessed in the 25 minutes he got, and after 13 Test appearances it is a travesty he has not yet had a start. Got stuck in everywhere … carrying very powerfully, tackling, and also showing sublime hand skills in one offload instance.
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