Cape Town – With apologies to James Bond, perhaps you could call the latest, troubling Springbok movie “Skyfall”.
Aerial deficiencies that have been apparent for a long time -- but simply not properly dealt with by the now massively imperilled Allister Coetzee regime -- came home to roost to a particularly costly extent as the national team ended their unsatisfactory European tour with a 24-22 reverse at the hands of Wales in Cardiff on Saturday.
You can say this fairly assuredly about the current squad: their hearts have generally still been in it, and Coetzee, trying his hardest not to sound funereal, defiantly highlighted that very hallmark in his immediate post-match interview.
It is reflected in the way they turned around an ominous 21-3 deficit at one point to come within a whisker of ending the northern trek with a third successive triumph; instead they ended with a ho-hum 50 percent win record -- and the pair achieved against poor French and Italian opposition.
But the critical development in this match – remember, played against a hugely below-strength Welsh outfit – was the Boks damagingly being caught cold (and glaringly disorganised) on defence early on to allow the hosts to roar into a 14-0 lead after only eight minutes.
The Springboks’ appalling frailty in dealing with high balls – several players culpable – plagued them virtually throughout the first half, and we also know only too well that the Boks and “catch-up rugby” are not exactly easy bedfellows.
That said, the green and gold pack spearheaded a tenacious enough fightback: almost all of the eight pulled their weight admirably, and ever-visible Steven Kitshoff and Pieter-Steph du Toit top the Sport24 Bok ratings card.
At this season-closing juncture, however, SuperSport pundit and former SA coach Nick Mallett summed things up when he said the Boks remained “nowhere near” the best two or three teams in the world.
That almost undeniable fact will probably amount to more than enough rope to hang “Toetie” with, very shortly …
Here’s how I rated the Boks out of 10 in Cardiff:
Andries Coetzee: 4
Some honest graft, it must be said. But the fullback still finds it so desperately hard to beat people with ball in hand, made a couple of aerial errors and the charge-down of his slow clearance kick led to the important third Welsh try.
Dillyn Leyds: 6
A more than satisfactory day. Stuck to his defensive script better than most, and sparked best moment of match for Boks with his line-busting breakout from deep and smart pass; Warrick Gelant earned debut dot-down in the move.
Jesse Kriel: 5.5
Did get progressively better, including clever stab-through for Gelant’s try and fine leg-drive for his own in second half. But was guilty of hesitant defence in Hadleigh Parkes’s first try, and some indecision or inaccuracies when on the front foot.
Francois Venter: 6
Went less AWOL than others around him when it came to tackling and positional sense on defence. Some strong, Jan Serfontein-like breakdown contributions as well.
Warrick Gelant: 6
Funny old first time at Test level, you might say. Positional rawness on the left wing was exposed a few times. But also fine evidence of his game-breaking qualities, including cool finish for his try. Very long touch-finder once.
Handre Pollard: 5
Started near-disastrously, including high ball collection gremlin and failure to find touch with penalty kick from hand. Bucked up, though, and confirmed his power near enemy try-line with comfortable crash over the chalk. A missed conversion by him proved costly.
Ross Cronje: 4
Set tone for Bok aerial problems with bad misjudgement of a receipt early on. Lack of pace again too evident. One decent contestable kick, though, and a crunching, knock-back tackle on a bigger Welsh foe.
Dan du Preez: 6.5
Confidence blossomed as game wore on; showed strong engine. Made firm hits, and produced a deft inside pass in one attacking raid.
Pieter-Steph du Toit: 8
Absolutely tireless competitor … initially as blindside flank and, in second half, as restored lock. Mobility to the fore, and muscular in both carries and defensive work. Effective pressure on Welsh lineout throw. Cruel on him that he leaked breakdown penalty 12 minutes from end that was decisive in scoreboard terms.
Siya Kolisi: 6.5
Yeoman shift after his week back in SA for parental reasons. Robust at close quarters, and glides so effortlessly into attacking moves in wider channels, doesn’t he?
Lood de Jager: 6
Industrious member of potent tight five, even if few chances to get those long legs on the gallop. Engaged cleverly with referee at times.
Eben Etzebeth: 6.5
Was delivering a typical “front-up” performance … until, on brink of halftime, he suffered serious-looking arm injury in a contact situation and missed entire second 40.
Wilco Louw: 7
Fast making the tighthead berth his own. Part of front row that really put the squeeze on Welsh rivals at scrum-time.
Malcolm Marx: 7
Sheds a point or so for some miscommunication or inaccuracy at lineouts, but otherwise thunderous shift. Tons of driving, linking, support running, and usual immovable force over the ball at rucks. Had what looked like legitimate try from rumble ruled out by TMO.
Steven Kitshoff: 8
Joins Du Toit for top marks here. Was expected to give stand-in Welsh tighthead Scott Andrews a torrid ride, and did precisely that. Also a perennial work-horse as a ball-carrier, mauler and tackler.
Oupa Mohoje: 7
Got the full second half at flank and rewarded the confidence of coach Coetzee and company with almost immediate vibrancy. Got away with cynical, over-eager high hit on Alun Wyn Jones.
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