Frans Steyn added to his remarkable legacy as the Springboks broke their Cardiff curse with a hard-fought 23-18 win over Wales on Saturday, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
The world champions had to dig deep to stay in the fight against the spirited Six Nations title holders and overcome the bucketing rain and did exactly that, taking the lead for the first time with seven minutes remaining thanks to a Malcolm Marx try and adding a penalty goal that ran out the clock to break their eight-year drought at the Principality Stadium.
Here are our top three Springbok standouts:
Enigmatic and evergreen, Steyn produced another superlative showing in a career full of them after coming on for an injured Damian Willemse at fullback in the 13th minute. Under siege in the Cardiff cauldron, with the glorious 75 000-strong Welsh crowd in full voice and rain teeming down, the two-time World Cup winner was the calm, skilled and seasoned sailor South Africa needed to steer them through the storm.
The ageless wonder was safe as houses under the high ball, no small feat in the atrocious conditions, and created much-needed magic with a counter-attacking break in the second half that nearly resulted in a try. In a sport full of great athletes, Steyn showed once again that he’s one-of-a-kind, complete with a vintage 54-metre penalty goal that cut the hosts’ lead to three in the 54th minute.
A less appreciated quality only the bulky and physical legend brings to the Springboks at fullback is the vital few extra seconds he stays on his feet in contact after fielding a bomb to allow support players to regroup and protect the ball once he does go to ground.
The 36-year-old deservedly bagged another Man of the Match award for his efforts and capped off a special night with a classic post-match interview.
More rabid honey badger than Kwagga, he was tireless and tenacious. This was a statement showing, a world-class all-round, all-action performance in which he proved his worth. He played his pilfering role with aplomb, a vital turnover in his 22 sticking out among his heists.
Smith’s pace and positioning were something to behold, a prolific blend that made him Johnny on the spot and saw him beat the home team’s hawks to a loose ball and retain possession 5m from the try line when the Springboks looked to close out the game late. A less alert and slower flank wouldn’t have been able to pounce on the pill, which would’ve given Wales essential extra time to launch a final flurry.
A couple of dynamic blitzes and 14 tackles, the second-most by a Springbok, rounded out arguably his best performance in the green and gold yet.
A talismanic titan. The Springbok captain credited South African spirit when asked how they were able to ride out the storm and turn the tide in his post-match interview and he was the embodiment thereof.
He’s significantly stepped up his physicality in recent years and that sharpened hard edge was on full display. Kolisi made some crushing hits and activated beast mode with ball in hand, sending outmatched Tomos Williams into orbit during one of his strong surges.
On top of that, he also led by example with regard to work rate and his rugby IQ was also notable, particularly his ability to read the game, which enabled him to make two key plays – a try-saving tackle on Louis Rees-Zammit and winning a breakdown penalty in the final play of the first half, which earned the visitors’ three points.
Lukhanyo Am oozed class, from claiming the first turnover in the second minute to his chip-and-collect that nearly led to a try to driving Nick Tompkins back five metres with an excellent defensive play and everything in between.
Lood de Jager turned in a team-high 15 tackles and had a field day in the lineouts, while his second-row partner Eben Etzebeth stepped up as the enforcer, making his intentions clear with a massive early hit on Dan Biggar and providing go-forward, especially in the attacking 22. Special praise must also be given to the scrum as a collective for their ultra-dominant display.