Eben Etzebeth asserted his dominance as the Springboks stuttered to a 22-21 win over Argentina in their final Test on home soil before the World Cup in Johannesburg on Saturday, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
It was a farewell and Rugby Championship finale to forget for the men in green and gold. Ellis Park was half-full, the team’s new World Cup anthem and the first performance thereof by Mgarimbe during the halftime break were widely panned and the Springboks’ performance wasn’t much better.
It wasn’t those fighting for places in the World Cup squad who stood up for the hosts but rather experienced campaigners, with Etzebeth leading the charge.
Our top three Springbok standouts were:
Etzebeth was a monster among men in what was his 20th Test against Argentina, a South African record. He was a runaway freight train with ball in hand, his tour de force starting with him bumping off Thomas Gallo.
Even more memorably, the herculean lock ran straight over Santiago Carreras to score the opening try, this after he’d created momentum with a trick play from a lineout in which he fired the ball back to Malcolm Marx. He put in a big defensive shift as well, his 16 tackles second only to Pieter-Steph du Toit’s 20.
In a messy game in which the Boks never got out of first gear, Etzebeth’s power and intensity were vital and fully deserving of the Man of the Match award he walked away with.
Kitshoff was colossal at the breakdown. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – he’s the best pilfering prop in world rugby and he showed as much here.
He saved the day twice, winning a penalty in his 22 in the first half and producing an even more crucial jackal on his line when the Boks were under siege in the 50th minute. He also won an earlier turnover in the attacking 22.
“Spicy Plum” counter-rucked really well when he wasn’t able to get his hands on the ball as well, got around the park and was strong at scrum time.
Faf de Klerk
Replacing poor Grant Williams, who was knocked out mere seconds into the match in a nasty collision with a jumping Juan Cruz Mallia, De Klerk wasn’t as accurate with his box kicks as one’s come to expect from him but he made up for it with an industrious performance overall.
He made a good break early on, a backline-high 11 tackles, including two crucial spot hits and pounced on a loose ball and smartly passed early to Manie Libbok to run in what proved to be the decisive try.
He also ate up a valuable minute of game time at the death when his pressure on Juan Martin Gonzalez at the back of the scrum resulted in a knock-on.