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It is report card time for the Springboks now that the English came, saw and were conquered, even if they managed to salvage some dignity with a share of the spoils from the final Test in Port Elizabeth.
One way of summing it up was the mood of Heyneke Meyer after the 14-14 draw. He was approached to sign a rugby ball and he said, with some sincerity, “I am not sure I am worthy of signing this after that display, and that goes for all of us.”
That is Meyer – a man who does not tolerate mediocrity, which is what he got from his troops in that lacklustre display in the depressing drizzle that swept across Algoa Bay during the match.
It is possible that deep in the Springbok sub-conscious the players knew they had won the series and thus could not lift themselves for an industrious push for 3-0 glory, especially when the players went into the series fatigued from Super Rugby exploits that bookmark the Test series – most of them are at it again this weekend, the Bok contingent of the Sharks being the exceptions, and how they must be lapping up the timing of their team’s bye.
But if we put the Boks under the spotlight, how did they fare over those three weeks?
Let’s start with the front row.
They scrummed consistently well over the series but in general play The Beast was largely absent – how seldom did the crowd roar his name? – while Bismarck was immense in the first two Tests but quiet in the third. Jannie du Plessis scrummed very well, and that is what is expected from a tighthead prop.
The second row? Juandre Kruger was excellent in taking over the lineout calls and he clearly has benefited from the guidance of Victor Matfield at the Bulls.
He had a good series. Eben Etzebeth was impressive in Durban and Johannesburg but the youngster has been playing with a shoulder injury and it is no surprise that he cannot play for the Stormers this week.
He is a Bakkies Botha of the future, but he was overplayed.
The loose forwards?
At No 8, Pierre Spies remains an enigma.
He is a colossal physical figure, a supreme athlete, and yet he achieves relatively little.
The Boks would be better served when Stormers No 8 Duane Vermeulen is over his injury.
At openside flank there is no such concern. Marcell Coetzee, who made his debut in the first Test in Durban, was consistently outstanding across the series. So was his Sharks teammate Willem Alberts, who was exceptional in the first two Tests before injury ruled him out of the third.
His replacement in Port Elizabeth, Jacques Potgieter, was out of his depth in his debut Test.
Which brings us to the backline, and it is as half back that Meyer has some big calls to make ahead of the Rugby Championship. His 9 and 10 in PE were terrible, let us not beat about the bush.
Francois Hougaard is palpably out of form and is looking more and more like a wing, where he sometimes plays, than a player that has to make decisive and accurate plays from the base of the scrums and rucks.
The same goes for poor Morné Steyn – when his goal-kicking boots desert him, so does the rest of his game. It is a pity that protégé Johan Goosen is injured but in the interim, Peter Grant is probably our best bet should Meyer not opt for moving Patrick Lambie from fullback to flyhalf. – Pretoria News