MARK KEOHANE rates the Boks after the 17-16 RWC win against Wales in Wellington.
Bismarck was colossal, Frans Steyn was imposing and Schalk Burger and Heinrich Brussouw were immense. But thank goodness Francois Hougaard has a feel for the game and the quickness in his legs to match the quickness of his decision-making.
Boks – 10 is for perfection and 5 is for making the team
8 – Frans Steyn: His opening quarter was as good as we’ve seen from him in four years. He cut his hair but gained strength. The way he ran over Shane Williams and James Hook to score the opening try was Lomu-like. He has the X-factor at fullback and teams rarely win a line-kicking contest against him. His defence was good and his positional play very good.
5 – JP Pietesen: He played as if on autopilot. More than that would be an insult to any sort of flying.
6 – Jaque Fourie: When the Boks got go forward ball, which was in the first 10 minutes and briefly in the last 10 he was explosive and strong in breaking the first tackle. His defensive organisation was good. He consistently plays as one of the best No 13′s in the game.
5 – Jean de Villiers: The World Cup curse struck again (or was it the charging frame of Jamie Roberts). De Villiers missed the 2003 RWC because of injury, lasted less than a half in the 2007 RWC in France and was off within 25 minutes in the game opener in Wellington.
5 – Bryan Habana: Francois Hougaard’s performance put into perspective the struggles of Habana in the last 12 months. He hasn’t scored a try in his last 12 Tests – and that can’t be all down to those around him. Never looked comfortable in Wellington.
5 – Morne Steyn: We know he can kick a ball over from anywhere and that first conversion was as good as you will see, but defensively he is nowhere against a powerful 12 or loose-forward if a team gets go forward ball. If we saw the best of a front foot Steyn in Port Elizabeth we got another taste of Steyn on the back foot overseas – and it has never looked pretty.
5 – Fourie du Preez: The composure we once took for granted is no longer there. His mind is still there but the body is sore and damaged. He doesn’t take contact like he used to and he made more mistakes in Wellington than he’s made in his Test career. He looks like he is struggling with injury because his class can’t be questioned. SA needs a quick recovery from one of the greats of the game.
5 – Pierre Spies: There was no go forward so there was no attacking role. Defensively he could have been more aggressive but it has never been his game to tackle and be a battering ram.
8 – Schalk Burger: The man is not human. He hasn’t played for two months and produces 80 minutes of non-stop body on the line courage and crash tackling. Sensational.
7 – Heinrich Brussouw: Started strongly and won a vital turnover on the ground, but his fetcher role was diminished by the Welsh excellence in holding onto the ball and protecting it at the area of contact. He made in excess of 20 tackles and like Burger his comeback can’t be spoken of enough.
5 – Victor Matfield: He looked hesitant from the start and played as if carrying an injury. Matfield is the best lock the modern game has seen, but a Matfield struggling with an injury should not play. Wrap him in cotton wool and make sure he is ready for the play-offs. Without him the Boks lineout becomes just another at this tournament. With him there is nothing to compare.
6 – Danie Rossouw: This guy is a champion. You can play him at 8, 7 or 4 and he will deliver. Lock is his best position at the tail end of his career. He defended with mongrel and showed good discipline in every phase of play.
5 – Jannie du Plessis: One of those games where he wasn’t great but he wasn’t poor either. He didn’t win his one on one battle but he didn’t lose it. Didn’t little wrong but can’t recall him doing anything out of the ordinary.
5 – John Smit: The captain has had his best years, but he isn’t as bad as most make him out to be. Smit’s performance looks dire though because of the bloke replacing him. Any New Zealand flyhalf looks abysmal because the public compares the performance to Dan Carter. Smit, in his remaining month of Test rugby, will suffer a similar fate because of Bismarck du Plessis’s continued power displays.
5 – Beast Mtiwaraira: Saw little of the ball to make an attacking impression and spent much of the night defending close to the fringes of the ruck. He never looked troubled at the scrum but wasn’t dominant either.
9 – Bismarck du Plessis: He introduced urgency to the Boks, won as much turnover ball as the best specialist flanker in South Africa and commanded respect from the moment he entered the play. He is the best hooker in the world and needs to be playing for 80 minutes a game.
6 – Gurthro Steenkamp: Made good impact off the bench and enjoyed a busy last quarter.
6 – Johann Muller: His selection for the squad was an inspired one. Having lost Bakkies Botha before the game and Matfield early in the second half it helped having a player of his experience. He will never have the Matfield aura but he’d make most starting line-ups at this tournament. Solid performance.
6 – Willem Alberts: The conditions and match situation were made for his strong ball carrying skills. He remains best when used off the bench against tired legs.
8 – Francois Hougaard: I’ve had him in my starting XV on the wing all season and he showed why he demands inclusion in the run-on XV. He is in form and his legs match the good intention of his brain when making rugby decisions. He was busy, explosive and brilliant in the opening five minutes when on the field. He would have been the villain after conceding a 77th minute penalty that could have won the game for Wales. But it would have been unfair because he is a player willing to try things and of the view that nothing ventured means nothing gained.
5 – Butch James: He needs to play at 10. He has never been comfortable at 12 but it did help having him there to meet Jamie Roberts front-on. Was solid but can be of better use starting with Morne Steyn on the bench as a goalkicking insurance policy.
8 Wayne Barnes – He is the best referee in the world. He is calm, plays proper advantage, is consistent with his rulings and very clear in his explanations.
Bok team performance
6/10 - The Boks were not that bad. Wales were very good.
*Special mention – Kudos to Peter de Villiers and his coaching assistants for the timing of their substitutions.
Another special mention - Wales captain and specialist fetcher Sam Warburton. I think I’ve seen the new Richie McCaw. He is more than just a brilliant fetcher. He has the all-round game that has defined McCaw’s career.
And a final special mention - To those two Welsh okes who missed the drop goal and the penalty kick. To mention them by name would be to add insult to injury, but thanks. You both are always welcome in SA.