Jean-Luc du Preez was the best of a bad bunch as South Africa ‘A’ crashed to a 28-14 loss to Munster in Cork on Thursday, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
Mzwandile Stick’s side were extremely disjointed in the first of their two mid-week matches and were outplayed by the cohesive Irish club, who added a South African scalp to those of the All Blacks and Wallabies.
Our top three South Africa ‘A’ performers were:
Jean-Luc du Preez
Powerful and prolific, Du Preez put his hand up in the No 8 jersey. He and his twin brother Dan, who come on off the bench, were surprise inclusions in the side and he showed why with a strong all-around performance.
The utility forward stood out with his intensity and unrivalled work rate, playing with the hunger most of his teammates lacked and looking like he had an extra pair of lungs as he relentlessly bashed the ball up, mowed down Munster runners and made some brutal cleans.
The biggest takeaway from his showing was his supreme athleticism. In Duane Vermeulen, the Springboks have a veteran hard man and in Jasper Wiese a blunt-force bruiser whose rugby IQ doesn’t necessarily match his power.
Speed aside, Du Preez showed he’s just as athletic as Evan Roos – and has the maturity the rising star currently lacks – and more dynamic than Elrigh Louw, who had a quiet night at No 7.
The Sale Sharks star’s offloading ability was also on full display and adds such a significant added dimension to South Africa’s stale attack while a lineout steal in the 50th minute was another example of his athleticism.
He certainly gave the Springbok coaches food for thought.
The always-impressive Nortje has made it clear over the last two years that he’s the future and he underlined that message at Pairc Ui Chaoimh.
The 24-year-old was a pillar of strength in the lineout, running the set piece like clockwork and showcasing his exceptional ability to produce clutch steals when he poached Munster’s throw on his 5m line in the 25th minute.
He also lived up to his ironman reputation in general play, popping up everywhere, and similar to Du Preez displayed his top-class ball skills when he created a late try-scoring opportunity with a slick offload.
Williams left South African supporters wondering what could have been with his energetic cameo off the bench. The Sharks livewire made an immediate impact with a surging break and breathed some life into the lethargic visitors.
His energy was infectious and his speed to the breakdown suddenly gave South Africa ‘A’ some momentum after they had to mostly try to launch from standing starts before his arrival.
As he showed here, Williams is the one scrumhalf in the national set-up who plays what’s in front of him and pushes the envelope. One can only hope that doesn’t get coached out of him but if history tells us anything, it’s that it probably will.
It was another dreadful night for Herschel Jantjies, who’s lost all the spark that made him an exciting breakout star in 2019 and surely dropped further down the pecking order after this latest mare.