Cape Town - How refreshing to find it nearly impossible to decide who warranted the Springbok player-of-the-match mantle the most.
Believe me, that hasn’t happened often in the past couple of years.
Officially, the tenacious and zesty little scrumhalf Faf de Klerk earned the laurel, but it was a close call from several other candidates as South Africa earned a famous Test win (42-39, from a once ominous arrears of 3-24) over England at Ellis Park on Saturday.
It so happened that all of De Klerk, Willie le Roux and Duane Vermeulen - the entire overseas-based contingent picked by Rassie Erasmus - were massively influential in the breathless, highly entertaining affair.
But what made the victory additionally satisfying, bearing the not far off RWC 2019 in mind, was that generally more rookie, locally-based figures like debutants RG Snyman and S’bu Nkosi also made profound impacts.
For the record, a personal choice by a very short head for the award would have been the abrasive, industrious, heavy-hitting Vermeulen at No 8, who just looked “up for it” in the weirdly see-sawing affair throughout … certainly including the first-quarter period where most team-mates looked like deer caught in the headlamps.
Here’s how I rated the Boks in Johannesburg:
Willie le Roux: 8
First Bok game in a year and a half … and the Wasps-based sorcerer looked like he’d never been away. Played absolutely pivotal part in fightback from early disorder, often at fulcrum of a necessary volley of Bok reply tries and gliding into space quite beautifully. One important track-back tackle on flying open-side flanker Tom Curry, too.
S’bu Nkosi: 7.5
Eureka! The Sharks debutant, after some early defensive angst (not the only one), grew into the Test wholesomely as SA finally showed off a winger with predatory instincts - including a brace of tries - plus welcome physical presence.
Lukhanyo Am: 6
Perhaps the one Bok backline player who didn’t get at least one significant opportunity to truly “express himself”, but satisfactory maiden start nevertheless. One or two fumbles, though also some deft touches … and showed determination over the ball.
Damian de Allende: 6.5
Caught a couple of kick-offs assuredly, and demonstrated strong leg-drive in tight space at times. Still the odd question mark defensively, but clever offload for Nkosi’s first dot-down.
Aphiwe Dyantyi: 7
Extremely lively and fearless; compelling start to Test career. Committed chaser, won an aerial duel and provided smart inside pass for second Nkosi try.
Handre Pollard: 6.5
Started badly … glaring missed tackle, as Mike Brown dotted for England as quickly as fourth minute for 10-0 lead. But he’s mature enough not to be rattled; grew into key conduit in several decisive Bok attacking plays, including sublime pass for Le Roux’s try. Place-kicking could have been more clinical.
Faf de Klerk: 8
Breath of fresh air, when you consider how Boks have struggled in recent times to find a commanding No 9. His try sparked comeback, and clearly got his own juices flowing. Constant menace to English: Jeremy Guscott said it was a tribute to that very fact that error-prone Maro Itoje appeared to “virtually man-mark him”. Sniped and kicked cleverly, and tackled like a demon.
Duane Vermeulen: 8.5
That diesel engine may have accumulated some “kays” now, but the brawny eighth-man simply oozed intent, right from the word go. How could anyone say after that vitally robust showing that he’s a waste of space for RWC ’19? Best Bok man at breakdowns, by some distance, a lineout factor, and simply wouldn’t surrender an inch in general exchanges. Yster, to borrow from a familiar language …
Jean-Luc du Preez: 6
Grafted honestly, though leaked an off-feet penalty early on and couldn’t fully assert himself when Boks were on front foot. Subbed 10 minutes after break.
Siya Kolisi: 6.5
Look, his own A-game of the 2017 international season is still not quite there. But you have to heap praise on the history-making skipper for the calm way he geed up his troops for the haul back after the rare chaos of the first 17 minutes. It was a good way to win hearts; he largely did that.
Franco Mostert: 7
He just goes and goes for the Lions … and simply did so again for the Springboks on his home ground. Got stuck in near-ceaselessly where the sun don’t shine, cleaning out and aiding mauls with usual vigour.
RG Snyman: 8
The birth of a new lock giant in our country? Tremendous debut. Physical, intense, always hard-working. One terrific, athletic 50m dash soon after halftime that had crowd in raptures. Also a manna-from-heaven lineout poach late on, with result in balance.
Wilco Louw: 5.5
Uncertain start last weekend; same again here. Went straight down at first scrum and penalised. But was stabilising quite nicely for remainder of his stint.
Bongi Mbonambi: 7
Coach Erasmus said beforehand that confidence in the feisty hooker’s conditioning offset the risk of his undercooked status in game-time: he was proved correct. Mbonambi foraged and scrapped industriously for almost an hour; should only kick on further now.
Tendai Mtawarira: 6
In his 99th Test, was workmanlike for 48 minutes without producing genuine “wow” factor. Maybe saving that for ton-up in Bloemfontein next weekend?
Steven Kitshoff: 7.5
Gave necessary oomph when unleashed off the bench against Wales last week … and produced a carbon copy here (and then some). Quickly asserted himself powerfully at scrum-time, and busied himself effectively at breakdowns and mauls. Good shifts off the splinters for Thomas du Toit and namesake Pieter-Steph, too.
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