DURBAN – The floodgates didn’t quite open at the City of Toyota Stadium on Saturday but the Springboks will be reasonably pleased with their performance in a game where it was always going to be difficult to judge them.
This was the Bok dirt-tracker team (13 changes from the side that played the All Blacks) and Namibia had 40 000 Japanese cheering them wildly after having seen their own underdog team shock Ireland earlier in the day.
The south west Africans did punch above their weight but 9 tries to zip is still a hiding in anybody’s language.
Round one of RWC Japan had not seen a minnow team concede 50 points, the first time ever in the history of the World Cup but this was always going to be the game where that changed given Namibia play in second tier competitions in South Africa where they do not excel, so they were always going to be whipping boys against the country’s best.
Still, in the first half especially we saw more smiles from Namibia’s Welsh coach Phil Davies than Rassie Erasmus. The latter pounded his desk more times than he would have liked to, mostly because of the 14 handling errors his team made although, in mitigation, they had nearly all the possession and the humidity played a significant role.
Given the result would never be in doubt, this match was always about individuals advancing their reputations in the eyes of the coach. No Springbok did that more than Man of the Match Lood de Jager, who showed he is well and truly over the injury woes that kept him out of Super Rugby for the Bulls, and his comeback is complete.
De Jager was one of the better Boks at the 2015 World Cup where he and Eben Etzebeth were the starting second row. In that World Cup, De Jager finished as the tournament’s top defender.
De Jager at his best form will mean the heat is on Franco Mostert or, rather, on Erasmus to re-evaluate his second row options.
Mostert is a workhorse, a 110-percenter but De Jager is a world class act.
The pick of the backs was 33-year-old Francois Steyn, who was starting his first game for his country in seven years. He made a number of breaks and put in some thunderous touch finders.
Steyn is not going to seriously challenge Damian de Allende for the No 12 jersey — his versatility in any case makes him to valuable a bench man — but Erasmus will be pleased that Steyn not only got a good run yesterday but impressed while doing so.
Steyn’s centre partner, Lukhanyo Am, was much better and it was pleasing to see him get a few gallops under his belt. He made a fine break to set up Warwick Gelant’s try and scored a beauty of his own on halftime.
Hooker Bongi Mbonambi was lively and typically lethal off the back of lineout mauls but I thought his fellow front-ranker, Beast Mtawarira was quieter than he would have liked.
It was encouraging to see Siya Kolisi get on the pitch and put in some strong runs.
If we were to look for faults, it was not Elton Jantjies’ best game in a Springbok jersey. His line kicking was not too flash, nor was his goal kicking, and his hands let him down.