Cape Town – Some who put in a willing, unyielding enough shift. Others who clawed close enough to mediocrity. Still more who just failed too glaringly.
That was the sorry tale from the Springboks’ latest, debilitating defeat: by a clear-cut 37-21 at the hands of England at Twickenham, serving further reminder of just how far the once-proud Bok halo has slipped in recent months.
All you could say in a positive sense was that the Boks didn’t completely buckle – at one stage the prospect of another 53-3 sort of fiasco had briefly flickered – and sported an adhesive enough set-piece.
But as veteran SuperSport pundit Naas Botha lamented: “They always claim a good scrum and lineout, but what else (is there)?”
The answer, sadly, is very little indeed right now.
The Boks were all too often indecisive, crab-like or error-prone on attack, and their defensive structure and alignment was so ropey that Nick Mallett spoke of a “massive boulevard” at times for gleeful English ball-carriers.
All of these drawbacks point as much to coaching shortcomings, frankly, as they do the leanness in truly classy playing personnel as things stand.
Together, it’s an insipid cocktail.
On my scorecard, the highest tally I can muster is 6.5/10 for Willem Alberts, operating as something of a fish out of water as the No 6 flank but nevertheless making some smashing tackles and good yards at close quarters where he would sometimes commit two or three defenders to stopping him – he played more like the blind-sider he really is.
There was also an encouraging enough debut, warts and all, for Francois Venter in midfield and sound all-round showings from both starting props, Tendai Mtawarira and Vincent Koch.
But then things get messier …
Here’s how I rated the Boks out of 10 at Twickenham:
Willie le Roux: 5
Tried to be lively, but that little “dummy gallop” party trick is wearing thin and he cramped too many team-mates against the touchline. Mixed good and poor in aerial play, but took gap deftly enough for his try.
Ruan Combrinck: 4.5
Has been finding it very hard to replicate bright debut phase against Ireland earlier in the year. Some purposeful short bursts and moments of alert covering, but also fatally hesitant on defence at key moments, including one instance which led to English try.
Francois Venter: 6
Decent thrust on rare occasions it was possible, and showed durable engine. Positional mistakes made on defence … though maybe you shouldn’t be too harsh on a debutant when broader structures look so chaotic?
Damian de Allende: 4.5
Made a suitably industrious, fleet-footed start to this Test … but subsided as game wore on, not doing enough to subdue the pro-Rohan Janse van Rensburg lobby. Penalised for a high tackle.
JP Pietersen: 3.5
Abjectly disappointing for a player of his proven pedigree. Just didn’t look comfortable whether going backwards or forwards, and it was his spilled high-ball gaffe in England territory that immediately led to counter-attacking try before half-time, a crucial demoraliser for Boks after they’d been hanging in pluckily.
Pat Lambie: 4
The comeback from that serious concussion continues to be marked by hesitancy and lack of authority. Desperately far off his known best, and still guilty of not attacking the advantage line nearly enough. Kicked out on full from a kick-off, too.
Rudy Paige: 4.5
Jack-in-a-box initially, but couldn’t sustain and his service became problematic. Cerebral game-management still sorely lacking at No 9. Overdid (and sometimes over-cooked) box kicks. Defence around fringes found wanting when heat was on.
Warren Whiteley: 5.5
Difficult day for the lean No 8, up against England muscleman Billy Vunipola who punched some major holes. Still, Whiteley stuck at his task, with some purposeful tackles. Lovely linking and handwork ahead of first Bok try.
Pieter-Steph du Toit: 5
It’s history now that he was sold two seriously costly dummies by England scrumhalf Ben Youngs. Then again, perhaps they were just stark reminders that his best habitat remains lock? Otherwise, grafted hard and put in assertive “hold-up” challenges when hosts tried to maul.
Willem Alberts: 6.5
From his unlikely berth, best Bok, by my book. Constantly physical, with some knock-back tackles and good drives. Fact remains, alas, the hefty veteran is not a fetcher, and he could not engineer turnovers or slow down England ball. Must return to No 7.
Lood de Jager: 4.5
Some spadework in the engine room, but not a patch on the player who lit up the World Cup last year on similar terrain.
Eben Etzebeth: 5.5
Was getting suitably stuck in for half an hour, when Boks went toe to toe with the favourites. But then came that unfortunate “lights out” facial clash with Vunipola and costly removal from park.
Vincent Koch: 6
Missed the odd tackle, but also made a hatful. Absolutely nothing wrong with his scrummaging, either.
Adriaan Strauss: 4.5
Accurate with his throw-ins – but we know that – and must have pulled his weight at scrum-time. But should have led far more from the front in general play, including as a much-needed fetcher with SA fielding no specialist in that area.
Tendai Mtawarira: 6.5
Rock-like at the set-piece. General work-rate also pleasing for 56 minutes, including welcome rampage from a ruck.
Johan Goosen: 5.5
Nizaam Carr, Lourens Adriaanse and Faf de Klerk looked reasonably “up for it” in their briefer stints, too, but flyhalf Goosen, who replaced Lambie in the 54th minute, at least brought a bit more directness to the Bok attack and finished off a rare, defence-busting Bok move well for his try. That’s not to say he skirted gremlins … he didn’t.
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