Cape Town – The Test season started on the back foot for the Springboks against Wales … and ended the same way, against the same foes.
The Welsh on Saturday extended their bilateral hot streak against the Boks to four victories in a row and five from the last six, earning a well-merited 20-11 triumph in Cardiff to leave Rassie Erasmus’s charges with a strictly moderate two-from-four European tour record and similarly a 50 percent record (7/14) for the 2018 campaign as a whole.
This contest rather summed up the Springbok year: there were patches of real promise from South Africa, including a solid period in the second half when they even seemed well on course for a stirring, come-from-behind triumph after trailing by 14-3 at the break.
But they also paid a heavy price from some lapses in defence – both alignment-related and through expensive missed tackles – and a combination of impatience, handling frailty and lack of finesse when on the front foot.
The Bok pack was more than workmanlike, including earning healthy traction at scrum-time, but a feeling will persist throughout the summer break that certain berths remain well up for grabs, for World Cup 2019 purposes, in the backline.
Wales also eclipsed their guests for tactical astuteness at critical moments in this Test.
Several Springboks, despite the outcome, rose a little above personal mediocrity … yet nobody genuinely exuded all-embracing star appeal, either.
Here’s how I rated the Boks at Principality Stadium:
Willie le Roux: 5.5
Showed delightfully subtle hands in teeing up Jesse Kriel’s lone Bok try. But the fullback also played second fiddle in a few aerial battles and overcooked a pass to Pieter-Steph du Toit when the flank looked set for a rampage out wide.
Cheslin Kolbe: 7
The premier Bok, by my view … and special kudos for playing so well after being rushed into the team shortly before kick-off as S’bu Nkosi succumbed too injury in warm-up. Always constructive, committed and elusive. Nice aerial claim under pressure, and also earned a steal on the deck.
Jesse Kriel: 6
Denied a try by an absolute whisker just before halftime after video referral over grounding, with three Welsh limpets doggedly attached to him. When he did get a legitimate dot-down, he took the chance well. Gremlins, though, included a tendency to rush out of line, and failure once to control a ball when a counter-attack beckoned.
Damian de Allende: 4
Notably disappointing. Couldn’t assert himself in his 45 minutes, before becoming the first starter to be subbed for reasons not related to injury, which somehow said enough.
Aphiwe Dyantyi: 5
His inexplicable tendency to be sucked infield on defence when enemy troops are amassing out wide was evident once again for the second Welsh try. Otherwise, showed touches of deft footwork in limited space. Wrongly penalised once for not releasing under pressure when a Welsh player dived all over him.
Handre Pollard: 6
Solid enough game, including making some important, crunching tackles, finding some good touches and trying to attack the gain-line. Misdirected a pass -- too low -- to Frans Malherbe. Botched two place-kicks as well.
Embrose Papier: 6.5
His gradual, pleasing progress continues. Mixed up his game quite nicely, and made lovely blindside break in first half before failing to control his own collection from a grubber. Some well-aimed box kicks, and Bok scrumhalf play regressed, alas, when Ivan van Zyl replaced him (51st minute).
Duane Vermeulen: 6
Made a fierce early ball-in-hand charge, and showed customary general physicality and positional acumen. But some errors as well, including being penalised for an over-zealous ruck entry.
Pieter-Steph du Toit: 6.5
Almost had dream start: denied fourth-minute try only because of foot encroaching on touchline. Admirable work-rate yet again, though hands let him down once or twice and sometimes he drifted away from support players.
Siya Kolisi: 5.5
Only came to light fitfully; this hasn’t been his best tour, in truth. Some good leg-drive and counter-rucking, but fumbled a ball through over-hastiness and also lacked communication in high-ball receipt mix-up with substitute Elton Jantjies.
Franco Mostert: 6.5
Worked feverishly in first half, including a plethora of tackles – some in mightily quick succession -- and one or two smart tidy-ups of loose balls. Faded a little after break.
RG Snyman: No rating
The game had only gone 10 full minutes when the lanky lock was forced to retire to the seats after injury; Eben Etzebeth was forced into longer shift than expected off bench after his own layoff.
Frans Malherbe: 6
Reportedly under a fitness cloud before being deemed OK to take his place … and scrummed extremely sturdily, his core task.
Malcolm Marx: 6.5
At fault with costly missed tackle in build-up to first Welsh try, which loses him roughly a full point here. Otherwise, though, corrected his ways quite inspiringly: made some huge hits, won a turnover, and was central in earning Boks two breakdown penalties.
Steven Kitshoff: 6
Powerful left shoulder at scrum-time, though again not quite his fullest mojo here as a carrier. Wasn’t happy with the “off feet” penalty given against him.
Thomas du Toit: 6.5
Unleashed like a hungry bear in 53rd minute – immediate monster scrum, which earned him a round of head-pats, and also secured a turnover penalty through brute strength.
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