Guest writer Mike Bersiks takes a look at the Bok players and rates the game against Ireland.
Sounds a bit clichéd, but it really was a game of two halves. The Springboks were rubbish in the first forty, kicking aimlessly, and unable to build any momentum on attack because of dropped passes. One positive was that Ireland looked quite ineffective in attack, but Bok indiscipline allowed Jonathan Sexton too many easy shots at goal. The Bok forwards must have got a kick in the arse at halftime because they took control in the set piece and at the gain line after the break. Probably the most pleasing aspect of the second period was how the Bok defence once again rendered Ireland unable to seriously threaten the try they needed to win. My impression of the players individual performances:
15. Zane Kirchner – I’m not a fan but Kirchner had a good game. Solid under the high ball and a nice little sidestep and booming clearance from a restart in the second half. Kirchner’s type of game will do just fine on the heavier Northern Hemisphere fields but I guess my resentment of Kirchner lies more with his (lack of) qualities in attack. When Kirchner tries to run the ball it only highlights the gulf in class between him and the standout fullback in world rugby, Israel Dagg.
14. JP Pietersen – A little hard done by with a yellow card for a silly early tackle that came in the first half when the Boks only seemed capable of making error after error. If that tackle had been made in Durban you feel referee Wayne Barnes would only have penalised Pietersen, but the Irish crowd was baying for his blood. Had a couple of nice runs without ever really being able to break free – including a pearler of a hand-off on Sexton – and his defence was physical and up to scratch.
13. Jaco Taute – He’s come in for a lot of criticism but I like Taute at centre. He runs hard and looks for offloads to keep the attack alive and there was nothing wrong with his defence against the Irish. However, I do feel that Juan de Jongh can feel a bit short-changed by coach Heyneke Meyer. De Jongh deserves some game time on this tour given his Currie Cup form.
12. Jean de Villiers – The captain’s best game for the Boks since the series against England. He exploited some soft Irish defence in the inside channel by bashing his way through Sexton and Gordon D’Arcy a few times, giving the Boks some good front-foot ball.
11. Francois Hougaard – Didn’t see much ball although he was unlucky that one nice piece of footwork in the first half didn’t come to more when he wasn’t able to offload. Booted one great touchfinder. In defence he got stood up by the equally fleetfooted Keith Earls on one occasion but was good in the second half, making some important one-on one tackles.
10. Pat Lambie – Some very aimless punts upfield to start the game but got into it as the Bok forwards took control. Lambie’s distribution was good and he made a little line-break in the second half as his confidence grew. Also prominent in defence with 12 tackles made and none missed. Knocked over the kicks he should have got, and missed the hard ones at goal for a personal tally of three penalties and a conversion. I would persist with him, and give him more licence to have a go at the line himself.
9. Ruan Pienaar – Quite a good game marked by a try when he dived over a ruck. Pienaar cleared the ball quickly and generally took the right options when he decided to run, kick or pass..
8. Duane Vermeulen – A workmanlike rather than standout performance but he did little wrong on the night. Didn’t get much ball in hand but defended well – tackle stat of 13/0. Another player that you feel will do well on the Northern hemisphere fields.
7. Willem Alberts – Quite a few Irishman will wake up the morning with Alberts shaped bruises after another good display of crash tackling. He didn’t make too much impact with his ball carries in a tight game. I only wish that the Boks could think up a few good variations to get Alberts taking offloads on the shoulder of the ball carrier like the All Blacks do with Kieran Read rather than just bashing it up in the predictable pod.
6. Francois Louw – He can also feel pleased with his performance based more on workrate than anything flashy. Louw was a bit anonymous in a scrappy first half but stole some good ball in the second period as the Boks started to dominate the gain-line collisions. Top tackler on the day with stats of 16 made, none missed. Another player that needs to be used as more than just a battering ram to see his full value with ball in hand.
5. Juandre Kruger – Kruger didn’t play poorly but for me the jury is still out on him. He’s mobile and gets around the park well but his defence for a tight forward leaves a bit to be desired. The memory of Ben Alexander brushing him out the way to win the game for Australia in Perth lingers on and all of his tackles against opposition forwards seem to end in Kruger being driven backwards as he takes them to ground. His speciality is the line-outs but SA only threw one ball to him as number five jumper in the whole match.
4. Eben Etzebeth – Another good performance for the young ‘Yster’. Took most of SA’s line-out ball and stole one from Ireland. Threw himself about with the sort of relish for physical contact that we have come to expect. The only blemish I noticed was a ball getting stripped off him in contact close to Ireland’s line when SA looked poised to score.
3. Jannie du Plessis – He’s been one of SA’s most consistent performers in recent years and once again did a good job. Despite the fact that he’ll never be a truly destructive force at scrum time Du Plessis didn’t give anything away.
2. Adriaan Strauss – Workmanlike. Hit his jumpers at line-out time and did a good job in the loose overshadowing cousin Richardt for Ireland (c’mon northern hemisphere nations, have you no shame in your player pilfering?). My only criticism is that he carries the ball too upright, sometimes leading to turnovers.
1. CJ van der Linde – On as a late replacement for Beast, CJ did ok against a below-par Irish scrum. If Mtawarira is not fit I’d feel more secure with Gurthro Steenkamp starting against Scotland, who have considerably better props.
17. Heinke van der Merwe – A surprise cap for the ex-Lion and he demolished his opponent in a first couple of scrums to milk a couple of penalties.
18. Pat Cilliers – Decent run off the bench to give Jannie Doep a breather.
19. Flip van der Merwe – Another penalty free cameo. I wonder if Heynecke has thought about a Flip at four and Etzebeth at five experiement?
20. Marcell Coetzee – One wonderful driving tackle in his time off the bench. Gives you workrate and full-blooded enthusiasm if nothing else.