Bok report card
Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer will be happy with the results in all three tests in the Castle Lager Incoming Series, and will head into the Castle Lager Rugby Championship a much more confident man.
While some may have wanted more game time for players, it is clear Meyer is building a base of two players in each position, and while some positions have been sorted out quite clearly, others will take a bit more time, especially in the back-up part.
So here is a brief report card on the players, considering the time they had on the field, the opportunities offered and the way they are likely to be utilised going forward. It may differ to opinions out there and to Meyer’s himself, but it should give an insight into how players will be looked at going forward.
Willie le Roux – B+
With a few nervous touches in all three games, Le Roux is clearly finding his feet at this level. But for a debutant his contribution has been more than noteworthy. Clearly an asset on front-foot ball his draw and pass was a delight to behold in Pretoria, and the option of two playmakers behind the scrum and ruck makes the Boks even more dangerous. His chips won’t always work but he offers a breath of fresh air going ahead.
Other options: Zane Kirchner (rested – but will remain an option for Rugby Championship), Pat Lambie.
Bryan Habana - A+
The 50-try veteran may be heading for France but is still class. His departure will be felt by his franchise as well as by the Boks as Habana is certainly still the No 1 player in his position. His workrate, and dangerous counter-attacks make him still a massive asset for the Boks. He has also toned down the intercept, meaning he is also in line a lot more on defence.
Bjorn Basson – B+
Basson had struggled before at this level so it was great to see him break his try-scoring drought in the test against Italy. Great under the high ball and blessed with speed, he will continue to taunt defences and grow with confidence.
Lwazi Mvovo – Not used but also speedy.
Raymond Rhule – needs to work on defence, but good future prospect
Jean de Villiers – captain – B+
For outstanding leadership and continuing to prove his detractors wrong. Jean, though, readily admits he will step down when he feels he has little more to offer. Though his experience is crucial and leadership skills count a lot, he knows he has a challenge on his hands.
JJ Engelbrecht – A
One of the stars of all three tests, Engelbrecht had a forgetful debut against Argentina last year but scored in all three tests this time around. His pace and confidence make him very dangerous and if he continues to grow, he could well be an all-round star going forward.
Jan Serfontein - A
For a 20-year-old who is feted with compliments all around, he has been exceptional. There is no doubt he has a big future ahead of him and is the natural midfield successor to Jean de Villiers at 12. His temperament in his appearances was nothing short of a senior player.
Robert Ebersohn – not used, but a useful back-up who could easily slot in at 12 and 13.
Juan de Jongh – purposefully rested by the Bok management but should be back in action by the time the Southern Hemisphere tests come back.
Morne Steyn – A
While some people’s obsession with Steyn knows no bounds, he certainly was one of the stars of the June tests. Solid with his kicking (he did miss one or two) but more impressive with the way he started to run with the ball, he scored a try against Samoa and slotted into the playmaking role far more comfortably than before. He has upped his game and it is time his critics saw that.
Pat Lambie – B
It is perhaps a bit harsh giving Pat a B as he did all that was asked from him and only had a handful of minutes to perform in all three tests. The Boks have plans for him going forward and he will be utilised more, but we may see with the pressure off him, and secure in his position in the team, he will grow more as a player.
Dimitri Catrakilis – Called up to the camps before the June tests and with Johan Goosen injured and Elton Jantjies not playing to form, he is the next man on the list.
Ruan Pienaar - B
Mr Solid. Nothing spectacular or incredible about Pienaar, he is simply a player who gets on with it and does his job. More secure in his role in the side and with leadership abilities, Pienaar is the go-to man when the Boks are without flair at halfback. A good boot on him as well, although at times tends to kick too much.
Piet van Zyl – B
A solid start to his Bok career, and exceptional considering three weeks ago he was planning a quiet June at home. The Free Stater can be proud of his elevation into the squad.
Jano Vermaak – a great debut at scrumhalf and then injured, Vermaak’s problems are more in his signing a contract in France than in his ability. Will Heyneke pick him from there or has he shot himself in the foot?
Francois Hougaard – Currently the problem child of both the Bulls and Boks. An exceptional talent who is struggling this season and has been beset with injuries. Needs to get game time at the Bulls again and find his feet. Have to wonder if all the kickboxing and extra sessions he puts in for fitness haven’t played a role?
Pierre Spies - C
Often given a raw deal, it isn’t that Spies isn’t doing his job anymore. He had the second most tackles and cleans against Italy and gets around the park, despite what his critics say. It is more about his effectiveness as a ball carrier, where he is most needed. Defences have worked him out and he will need to evolve faster if he is to keep himself in the starting spot.
Willem Alberts – B+
Struggling with injury and after a tough Vodacom Super Rugby season, Alberts returned to his physical best against Samoa. The way he combines with Francois Louw in a loose trio is one of the greatest assets the Boks have at the moment, and he should stay in the position for the Rugby Championship.
Francois Louw A+
Possibly the player of the three-week mini tournament, Louw has been exceptional and was never more prominent than the week he left to get married. Missing him at the breakdown is one of the major factors the Boks need to sort out and his influence has been massive. With him there are few problems, without him, well…
Siya Kolisi – A magnificent debut that has topped his rise-from-the-ashes fairytale story as a Bok, Kolisi has done more than enough to stay in the squad. Certainly one for the future, but the Boks need to hone his skill set so as to get the balance right for the Rugby Champs.
Arno Botha – the tragedy of the three weeks as Botha was easily the man of the match against Italy. A massive workrate and combining well with Francois Louw would have seen Botha come close to dethroning Spies at 8. But he is injured, so no chance of that now. We hope he gets well soon.
Lappies Labuschagne – Not used in the three-week window, which is a shame, but the form forward of the Super Rugby series, Labuschagne is one for the future.
Juandre Kruger – B
The three weeks weren’t his best in a Bok jersey but more than easily reached the passing point. A kingpin in the lineouts, his play in the loose could have been better as he tended to stand off rucks a bit. But these three weeks were more about testing for a successor and at the moment without manufacturing one, there isn’t a replacement for Kruger, who is heading to France.
Eben Etzebeth – B +
A bit lost in the Scotland test until he was shoved in the face, Etzebeth is still growing at lock and was one of the better forwards in all three battles. He does tend to love a physical encounter, as Samoa found out, and is the player Heyneke Meyer has placed his belief in going forward. Can only get better with time, and that, in itself, is a great thing to anticipate.
Flip van der Merwe – B+
The Bulls lock is often given flack for his ability to get on the wrong side of referees but this season he has been exceptional. His physical ability was good, and he has upped his lineout and loose play to the point where Meyer gambled on him at No 5. Certainly in the Bok plans going forward
Franco van der Merwe – To be honest, and Van der Merwe is a great guy, he seems to be a stop gap for the Boks. It doesn’t look as if the management is keen on using him in any meaningful role.
Jannie du Plessis – B
The old warhorse is still going strong, but the Boks did falter once or twice against Italy, which has blemished his record. Still the only option to start at tighthead.
Tendai Mtawarira – B
Same as Du Plessis, will want to forget the Italy scrums but came back well against Scotland and Samoa. Has a host of contenders at loosehead but showed he isn’t done yet.
Coenie Oosthuizen – doubles as a fetcher and if he can settle on a position in the front row, can only grow in stature. Looks for work consistently and can become a cult figure for Bok fans
Trevor Nyakane – The man with the golden smile is already a crowd favourite. Has come on leaps and bounds and scrummed well against Italy. Can only grow in stature as well.
Adriaan Strauss A+
Another real winner from the test series, Atter has had an incredible season and continues to grow in stature in the Green and Gold. Was on the receiving end of some indecent treatment in Pretoria and showed his anger, but understandably so. Likenesses to the Hulk are not uncommon and he certainly has made himself invaluable to the Boks.
Bismarck du Plessis B+
Returning from injury Bismarck was rested in week one but showed enough in weeks two and three to let you know a right old ding-dong battle for the number 2 jersey is coming. An old warhorse, doubling as a fetcher and the physical gruntwork needed in the Bok pack, selections will be interesting going forward.
Chiliboy Ralepelle – Again playing No 3 in the pecking order, it is understandable Chiliboy has left for France. Will Heyneke pick him? Good question as there aren’t a lot of international hookers knocking on the door at the moment.