Cape Town – A general, qualified tick for the Springbok players for their courage and desperate industry … remember that just winning on a cold winter’s Saturday night in Paris cannot ever be taken for granted.
The tourists were fitting 18-17 winners against France and, had Handre Pollard not been so errant off the tee at times, might otherwise have prevailed by a less nail-chewing margin.
That’s the good part, and at least under-fire coach Allister Coetzee finally sports a European scalp after four failed prior efforts, stretching back to last year.
But a modern classic this was not: naïve, frantic and error-laden, what we saw were two strictly “mid-table” sides, effectively, fighting over a greasy old bone.
If anything, the Test only cranked up the scrutiny on Coetzee and his lieutenants, as this was more about the players’ dogged determination not to lose than any statement of resurgence, or tactical and technical proficiency.
That applied particularly in the Bok backline, where perceptible class and cool-headedness remains in horribly short supply.
Here’s how I rated the Boks out of 10 at Stade de France:
Andries Coetzee: 5
Mostly blunder-free; little to no dazzle. That could be a copy-and-paste from so much of his 2017 Test season … and once again, it is.
Dillyn Leyds: 5.5
Best of the still fragile back three on the night, I thought. Showed good composure and thrust for his first-half try, and grafted solidly enough. Loses a bit, though, for one surrender of ball in contact and some high-ball hesitancy.
Jesse Kriel: 5
Long-term solution at No 13? I still don’t think so, based on evidence this year. Badly at fault for missed tackle in lead-up to first French try. Still, better second half and good collection of tricky ball for his own, important try.
Francois Venter: 6.5
Little that was genuinely cutting-edge, but also a vast improvement in this fixture on ailing Damian de Allende at inside centre. Commendable work-rate and stamina, and at least a desire to be constructive.
Courtnall Skosan: 4.5
Slight improvement on Ireland nightmare … but that’s also not saying terribly much. One electric bust-out, but still too defensively charitable as well.
Handre Pollard: 5
Hmm, funny old game from him. Mixed the rank bad – poor place-kicking, some fluffed options – with more valuable qualities. Do not under-estimate, please, how much his directness sucked in defenders, giving greater space in wider areas for the tourists.
Ross Cronje: 5
Boks still short of a proper, game-managing maestro in this key berth but at least Cronje was that bit more urgent and confident than in his disastrous Dublin date. Box kicks usually better-weighted here.
Duane Vermeulen: 6.5
Not quite vintage “Thor” yet … but on this evidence, getting there! What mattered most was that the Boks had one of their iron men and leadership figures back, and he was certainly a presence. That he won a 70th-minute turnover showed his conditioning standards right now were better than expected, too, I’d say …
Siya Kolisi: 6
Some inspired surges in wide channels, a role he’s almost always good at. Made yards with the odd pick and go, as well. Conceded penalty for side entry.
Francois Louw: 6
Looked so much happier in his favourite slot of open-side flank after that little spell as an eighth-man. Played right to the ball and showed good endurance doing that.
Lood de Jager: 6.5
Topped the Bok tackle count, according to some stats score-sheets. Very willing at close quarters, and stole a French lineout too. Leaked one “off feet” penalty.
Eben Etzebeth: 7.5
Maybe Boks overdo the bash-it-up-as-first-receiver thing with him? That said, led from front for unerring, awesome physicality as the front lock. Also engaged quite well with ref Nigel Owens.
Wilco Louw: 6.5
Almost a full match – again – and that said much about the rookie’s desire, and promise. Rock-solid as scrum anchor and robust clean-outs.
Malcolm Marx: 7.5
Had gone off boil a bit in all rugby since Newlands heroics against NZ, but this was more like a return to A-league standards. Enormous over the ball at rucks, with two or three turnovers including one penalty win. Clattering physical presence, though a couple of lineouts were botched.
Tendai Mtawarira: 6
Some of his drives were big, leg-pumping ones. Staunch shift broadly, though gave away a scrum penalty.
Steven Kitshoff: 6
So often the first Bok sub if to be introduced if injuries haven’t played a role, and here he was on after 52 minutes. Continued his habit, too, of getting hands dirty almost immediately.
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