Kurt-Lee Arendse epitomised the courage the Springboks displayed to nearly pull off a famous win over France in Marseille on Saturday, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
Reduced to 14 men as early as the 12th minute with Pieter-Steph du Toit red-carded for a dangerous cleanout and having to finish the game with 13 players following Deon Fourie’s yellow card for a professional foul, the world champions showed immense character to push Les Bleus to the brink.
In the end, though, a late try by Sipili Falatea and penalty goal by Thomas Ramos saw the Six Nations Grand Slam winners eke out a 30-26 win in a drama-filled thriller.
Our top three Springbok standouts were:
Kurt – Lee Arendse
As a pint-sized player who makes a living out of punching above his weight, Arendse knows all about having the deck stacked against him as South Africa had after the early red card.
He’s a gutsy fighter unfazed by massive challenges, a scrapping, and clawing overcomer, and it’s that warrior spirit that made the 1.8m, 76kg wing a towering figure at the Stade Vélodrome.
Whether it was pin-balling off would-be defenders, cutting down giants, or soaring above much taller men to pluck high balls out of the sky, Arendse personified the never-say-die attitude of the defiant Springboks.
The pocket rocket was prolific with his kick returns, rushing and stepping his way to an unrivalled 107 metres in eight carries, and showed his strength and composure to score in the corner.
His heroic defence was even more impressive and inspiring. Losing centre Jonathan Danty to injury in the red card incident and opting for a 6-2 split meant Sekou Macalou had to wing it for France and Arendse chopped the 1.98m, 108kg flank down to size, making a try-saving tackle on the big man in the first half and another vital tackle in the second.
His inclusion in the starting line-up ahead of Makazole Mapimpi, who’d been named on the bench for the first time, was one of the interesting selections for the crunch clash and he vindicated that call with his courageous and complete performance.
Willie le Roux
Du Toit’s red card forced the Springboks to play a more attacking brand of rugby, a diversion into Le Roux’s wheelhouse, and the resurgent veteran flourished in the fast lane.
He was the architect of South Africa’s attack, downloading data in a flash at first receiver to put players into space and France under all sorts of pressure with his diverse skillset and unpredictability.
His bag of tricks included pinpoint cross kicks to Jesse Kriel and Mapimpi and carving out a try for Arendse with a world-class cut-out pass. His organisation from the back was outstanding as well.
No one has been as consistently excellent in the green and gold over the last two seasons as Etzebeth and the herculean lock delivered in a big way again.
Etzebeth took the fight to the French in the trenches, putting in a ton of work and bringing the type of physicality that screamed that the Springboks weren’t going to lie down.
That translated into tremendous tackle fight and pack-high numbers in carries (9) and metres (41), with his desire and work rate also seeing him produce a stellar steal on the deck in the 26th minute.
Special mention must be made of Cheslin Kolbe, Faf de Klerk, and Siya Kolisi.
Kolbe’s 52-metre curling penalty goal opened the Springboks’ account at a crucial time and was a thing of beauty, as was the little wing sitting down big flank Anthony Jelonch before being taken out in the air by Antoine Dupont.
De Klerk had his best game since the 2019 World Cup. He was fast and crisp and made good decisions, including taking a quick tap that led to Dupont’s red card and going right to set the course for Arendse’s try. His touchline conversion was clutch as can be and his penalty goal minutes later top-notch, but his shallow exits cost him a spot in the top three.
Kolisi led from the front, snuck over for the Springboks’ opening try, and earned an extra three points with a determined tackle and counter-ruck effort. The skipper missed out because an error in judgment – jumping out of the line – cost his team a try.