Cape Town – The promise shown by centres Rohan Janse van Rensburg, who was especially assertive, and Francois Venter provided one of few satisfying aspects as a Springbok XV salvaged a 31-31 draw with the Barbarians in London on Saturday.
At least you could say that the time-honoured attacking spirit of BaaBaas rugby was adhered to on a day when the sides – reasonably “scratch” outfits, both – equally split 10 tries, some of them very easy on the eye.
But there was also plenty of worrisome naivety and lack of cohesion from the Boks, in particular, and they had to dig deep to find two tries in the closing nine minutes just to earn their share of the overall spoils from 31-19 down.
It would be daft of people to read too many signals of gloom into the South African performance by relating it to the blue-chip Test against England at Twickenham next weekend – the Springbok team for that altogether more serious clash will differ vastly from the rookie-laden one fielded against the BaaBaas.
Nevertheless, you could argue with some conviction that the general climate of fragility around the game in our country remained largely unaltered after this exercise.
For the umpteenth time this season, men in green and gold jerseys struggled to get on the front foot for any consistent periods of time, the breakdowns were a near-disaster, collisions weren’t dominated often enough, and defensive structure went alarmingly pear-shaped in some instances too.
On the minor plus side, the Janse van Rensburg/Venter midfield duo, despite some understandably ropy moments in alignment terms given their first-time partnership, offered more punch than has been demonstrated by any other twelve and thirteen alliance for the Boks during 2016.
The Bok scrum also functioned well, and those – like the great second-rower Victor Matfield – who feel that the national side has been inexplicably ignoring the rolling maul witnessed its resurrection with some sterling results on this occasion.
Here’s how I rated the Boks out of 10 at Wembley Stadium:
Jesse Kriel: 5
Satisfactory at best; did little to suggest he deserves to pip Willie le Roux to likely occupancy of the fullback jersey against England. Still short of the X-factor of last year, and struggled in defensive situations near own try-line. Ruan Combrinck took over at the back for second half.
Sergeal Petersen: 4.5
Alas, this game would have been a more pronounced shocker for him … but for a moment of attack magic just after halftime when he broke in-field beautifully and cracked on the pace for a fine try. Otherwise, the lightweight fellow (82kg) found gigantic wing rival Taqele Naiyarovoro (125kg) awfully difficult to handle and was “bounced” way too often by him, or others, in contact.
Francois Venter: 7
Always sought to be constructive, and although there were flaws to his play, seemed to blossom increasingly as the game wore on, including doing the finishing-touches job to Boks’ second-last try. Strong shout for No 13 shirt at Twickers?
Rohan Janse van Rensburg: 8
Some issues with popping out of line when Boks were under the whip, which placed pressure on those scrambling around him. But for go-forward, the 22-year-old was a major revelation. Got over advantage line a lot, was broadly “up for it” physically, and squeezed in for Boks’ levelling try in 77th minute – thoroughly deserved.
Jamba Ulengo: 6
Blew hot and cold, but on such a collectively helter-skelter occasion perhaps that was inevitable. Made some decent strides via those long legs at times, but lost one important aerial contest and tackling technique open to some scrutiny.
Pat Lambie: 5
The captain on the day continues to look off the pace in his gradual comeback from that violent concussion incident earlier in the year. Flashes of authority, but still standing too deep, making errors in linking play and place-kicking looking erratic as well.
Rudy Paige: 5.5
Petered out a little after really bright start; particularly lively and energetic in first quarter, but then couldn’t quite bring genuine authority to a still-problematic Bok berth in the post-Fourie du Preez climate.
Nizaam Carr: 6.5
Demonstrated healthy stamina: some of his best moments came towards the business end. Good tackle count, marauded and linked well out wide, and lovely hand skills in build-up to Janse van Rensburg’s face-saving late dot-down.
Oupa Mohoje: 5
Sorry, but for a blindside flank we are still just not getting enough mongrel, front-foot value and consistency of industry from Mohoje. Hardly deserves to retain spot against English. A few solid tackles, and one fine, cork-screwing run … before Boks were turned over, to undo the good work.
Roelof Smit: 6
Flashes of potential from the Blue Bulls fetcher, who won two important penalties while wrestling for pilfers at breakdowns -- yet it must be remembered Boks were badly bossed on the whole there. Clever breakout from maul for first-half try.
Pieter-Steph du Toit: 7
Seldom delivers a below-par game for the Springboks, and here his relative experience came in handy in a raw pack. Constant, fiery combatant at close quarters, commanding at lineout and great gallop for his try off a lineout.
RG Snyman: 5.5
Solid from the lanky Bok debutant, if not spectacular. Gave a bit of early grunt, but handling let him down once.
Lourens Adriaanse: 6.5
Did well as scrum anchor-man, including mighty heave when Boks claimed heel against head. Running neck and neck with Vincent Koch to start at Twickenham?
Malcolm Marx: 5.5
A bit disappointing. This was his chance to confirm his mettle as a ball-carrier, and little was seen of that. Slightly eclipsed by Lions squad-mate Akker van der Merwe in BaaBaas shirt.
Tendai Mtawarira: 6.5
Seems to be coming into some well overdue form this season as it nears its close. Like Adriaanse, bossed his opposite number at the set-piece.
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