Burger stands tallest

JON CARDINELLI rates the performances of the Springbok players and coaching staff following their unsuccessful World Cup campaign in New Zealand.

Ratings out of 10 are in brackets. The star performers in each category are in bold.

BACKS:
Back three: Frans Steyn (7) started to find some form at fullback before he was asked to step in at No 12. Steyn provided plenty of physicality and impetus in that channel, but his success must be viewed in context considering he played in that position against the minnows. Pat Lambie (7) started the tournament slowly, but delivered his most rounded performance in the quarter-final. Francois Hougaard (7) was the pick of the wings, mixing a mongrel attitude with a phenomenal attacking talent for spectacular individual attacking results. Gio Aplon (7) was similarly dangerous, although wasn’t used nearly enough over the course of the tournament. The two wings who were, Bryan Habana (5) and JP Pietersen (6), were consistently unimpressive. Habana became South Africa’s top try-scorer when he dotted down against Namibia but was otherwise largely ineffective. Pietersen had his moments against Fiji, but also battled to make decisive breaks and finish. Odwa Ndungane (5) looked ordinary even when he started against Namibia. Zane Kirchner is not rated as he didn’t play a game.

Centres: When the World XVs are compiled at the end of this tournament, Jaque Fourie (7) will be up there as the preferred No 13. His value on defence was evident in the first pool match against Wales and again in the quarter-final showdown with the Wallabies, while he combined well with Jean de Villiers (7) on attack in the latter game. De Villiers left the field early on during that Wales game and played off the bench in the Samoa clash, so his rating is largely based on a strong game against Australia. Juan de Jongh’s (6) two-try success against Namibia should be viewed in context, although there’s no denying he has a special talent.

Halfbacks: Fourie du Preez (6) mixed the measured with the erratic, executing well at some stages of the tournament, and missing the mark horribly at others. He looks to be past his best. Ruan Pienaar played so little rugby that it’s difficult to give him a rating. The man who usurped Pienaar in 2009 for the No 10 jersey also didn’t live up to expectations in many respects. Morne Steyn (5) wasn’t as accurate in front of goal as many would have hoped, and his woeful defence allowed opposition teams free passage through the flyhalf channel. He did nail a great drop goal in the quarter-final against Australia, but looking at the Boks’ campaign as a whole, his shortcomings on defence and attack let the team down. Butch James (6) did not get any opportunities at flyhalf, but turned in a solid defensive display at No 12 against Wales.

FORWARDS:
Back row: What better place to announce that you still have what it takes than on the biggest stage of all? Schalk Burger (9) looked the physical, sadomasochistic hulk of old, but also displayed a more subtle side to his game. His role as a ‘distributor’ in games against Wales and Samoa was influential to the outcome, but it was his ball-carrying surges into heavy traffic and some outstanding defensive displays (he made try-saving tackles against Samoa and Australia) that should be duly glorified. Heinrich Brussow (6) made some positive contirbutions without really dominating, as Sam Warburton won the breakdown battle in the big Pool D opener and David Pocock was the more influential openside flanker before Brussow succumbed to injury in the quarter-final. Francois Louw (6) did well when he was called on to deputise for Brussow, while Willem Alberts (7) was explosive in a bench or staring role. Pierre Spies (5) was consistent considering he failed to front for the big matches.

Locks: Victor Matfield (7) ended his illustrious career in terrific fashion. While he had a relatively quiet game against Wales and missed two pool games through injury, he rose to the quarter-final occasion, generating some important lineout steals as an individual and set-piece manager. Danie Rossouw (7) started this tournament strongly, but his overexposure at the top level in 2011 caught up with him in the latter stages. Bakkies Botha (5) never looked like the enforcer of old, while Johann Muller (6) was also limited by injuries.

Front row: Why wasn’t this guy starting? It’s not so much a question asked by myself than a question screamed by hordes of South African and international spectators every time Bismarck du Plessis (7) took the field. Every time Du Plessis came off the bench, he provided the Boks with go-forward. Peter de Villiers will argue that he is an impact player, but the Boks could have used his mobility, hard edge and breakdown skills from minute one. John Smit (5) tried his hardest at this competition, but was a poor impostor of the John Smit of 2007 and nowhere near the Bismarck du Plessis of 2011. Gurthro Steenkamp (6) and Jannie du Plessis (6) scrummed well, although the latter struggled in open play. The prop with the strongest game in general play, Beast Mtawarira (6) received few opportunities, as the Bok coaching staff favoured the superior scrummager in Steenkamp. CJ van der Linde (6) offered good impact from the bench, while Chiliboy Ralepelle (6) made the most of the few minutes he was given against Namibia during the pool stage.

COACHING STAFF:
Head coach: As the lengthy list of Bok assistants and consultants will show, Peter de Villiers (4) did not go to the World Cup to contribute in the technical department. From a management point of view, the senior players loved their coach because he allowed them carte blanche. He didn’t have the balls to make the tough calls when it came to selection, particularly in the areas of flyhalf and hooker. This weakness cost the Boks big.

Forwards coach: The forwards performed strongly at this World Cup, although the selection of Smit did undermine their cause at the breakdown. Gary Gold (6) did a solid enough job, but it must also be noted that he worked closely with Rassie Erasmus and veterans like Matfield in formulating the forward battle plans.

Backs coach: What has Dick Muir (2) contributed to the Bok game in the last four years? At the beginning of the 2008 season, he convinced De Villiers to favour an all-out approach that shunned structure, and when the players overturned this decision and reverted to what worked in 2007, it was almost as if Muir lost interest. In 2011, the Boks had a defensive coach, a kicking coach and a technical analyst to aid their backline’s development, and in areas like kicking and defence, there was a notable improvement. What failed to evolve was the Boks’ attack, as the poor try-scoring record will show, and Muir must shoulder some of the blame for the backline’s gross underachievement.

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