Cape Town - Let’s face it, a series clean sweep so seldom looked likely for the Springboks at miserable Newlands on Saturday, did it?
Instead they slipped and slid to an error-prone, clear-cut 25-10 defeat to a determined, cleverer and more clinical England in the dead-rubber affair.
In conditions more akin to those in their opponents’ home country in December or January, Owen Farrell’s men gradually turned screws to emphatically end a long sequence of losses.
Given the unenviable environment, they bossed all the pivotal areas: tactical kicking, the breakdown and the penalty count, which was a telling 14-6 in their favour.
Simply, the tweaked Bok XV for the day could have no beef with the result, which may yet prove useful on a learning curve that was never going to be relentlessly upward.
Here’s how I rated the Boks at Newlands:
Warrick Gelant: 6
Shifted to wing with half an hour to go, but had looked encouraging at No 15 in the conditions. Safe under aerial ball, some clever stepping … and deft grubber to tee up lone Bok try. Gave away two costly penalties in quick succession, though, which means a markdown …
S’bu Nkosi: 6
Another generally competitive outing. Gutsy steal on one occasion, plus good option of in-field grubber during one attack when hemmed to touchline. Lost a high ball in contact.
Jesse Kriel: 6
One of the most dangerous-looking Bok backs going forward. Tried to do things at pace, and some good cork-screwing to elude tacklers. Vitally dislodged a ball from a flying Mike Brown. But also passed disappointingly too early once when a breakout try looked on.
Andre Esterhuizen: 4.5
Fell back after that decent debut against Wales. Just couldn’t seem to get into a game where his physical dimensions should have been so useful. Threw out a stray early pass, which didn’t help. But as Victor Matfield noted, Boks might have been better served using his strong left boot at times … they barely did at all.
Aphiwe Dyantyi: 6
Showed promising gusto in limited space, though this was not the ideal game for his attributes. Horribly misjudged the flight of one high ball he was earmarked to collect.
Elton Jantjies: 3.5
Poor, sadly. Missed a fourth-minute shot at goal and that seemed to set tone for him. Shown up for lack of suitability to these conditions. Gremlins included overcooked kicks, two avoidable fumbles and a charge-down. Mercifully hauled off in third quarter.
Faf de Klerk: 5
Once again you had to credit the pint-sized No 9’s pure heart, including memorable drive-back tackle on big eighth-man Nathan Hughes. Otherwise, though, much less impressive than in the winning portion of the series. Tactical kicking not as accurate as that of counterpart Ben Youngs, a dodgy pass or two and also off-side victim of Glen Jackson’s whistle.
Duane Vermeulen: 6
Like De Klerk, his best contribution to the series came in Jo’burg and Bloemfontein. Just not as much oomph here, though industrious all the same. Strong at lineout, and one morale-lifting breakdown steal at welcome juncture. Lost a high ball forward.
Pieter-Steph du Toit: 7
I thought his engine worked best in the Bok pack on a day made for diesels. Kept at it from start to finish as an energetic, marauding blind-sider. Vital cover-defence once, lots of tackles and carries and a lineout steal or two.
Siya Kolisi: 6
Judging by the way TV commentator Joel Stransky lauded him as he came off in 65th minute, you’d think he might have warranted a higher mark. Certainly worked his socks off in the cleaning, collision and mauling department. But as the open-sider, the skipper must also take some responsibility for Boks being crucially outfoxed 9-4 at turnover time, yes?
Franco Mostert: 6
Durable, yet again, if not earth-shattering. Much of his graft was in dark places. Prominent at lineouts.
RG Snyman: 6
Honest shift until just short of hour mark, when Jean-Luc du Preez entered fray and Du Toit switched to second row. Caused some England lineout disruption with his height and reach.
Frans Malherbe: 6
Improvement on Bloemfontein, where he had looked more severely off the pace. Solid at scrum-time, and more conspicuous in open play, including one big counter-ruck to help secure penalty.
Chiliboy Ralepelle: 5.5
Made some important first-half tackles, and confirmed his mobility during his 44 minutes of activity. But penalised for not rolling away once, and this was perhaps a day where Boks needed more of a grunt-laden, Marx-type hooker.
Tendai Mtawarira: 6
Swift to a few early rucks, and carried with spirit in first quarter. Conceded scrum penalty early in second half, then rapidly subbed.
Steven Kitshoff: 6.5
So often the quickest substitute to impose himself on play … and this was no different. A few forceful drives, and debatably pinged for one scrum where he had helped secure noticeable go-forward before he may have lost his foothold and dragged it to ground. Few other Bok reserves set world alight in this one.