The two most experienced members of the pack and an ultra-determined debutant were the shining lights on a dark day for Springbok rugby as they crashed to a first-ever loss to Wales on South African soil on Saturday, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
The radically revamped world champions were in control of the battle in Bloemfontein for 77 minutes before the Dragons struck, with Josh Adams dotting down and Gareth Anscombe slotting the clutch touchline conversion to snatch a historic 13-12 win and level the three-Test series.
Our top three Springboks were:
A complete colossus, Etzebeth kicked on from his strong showing last weekend. So much more than an enforcer, he caused the Welsh all sorts of problems with his work rate and lineout prowess in his 99th Test match.
The 30-year-old was a disruptor of note in the lineouts, cracking the visitors’ calls and timing his interjections to perfection. Twice, that pressure forced a skew throw, while he also picked their pockets in the 63rd minute. Taking it a step further, he stamped his authority on the mauls as well, where his hunger saw him win a turnover in Wales’ 22.
Another impressive feature of his game that came to light once again was his kick-chase and work under the high ball. His willingness to go the extra mile put him in a position to contest box kicks and saw him retain possession twice, once in each half.
He also led by example in terms of his line speed on defence and carried strongly.
Pieter-Steph du Toit
One of the positives the beaten Springboks can take out of the failed experiment was the performance of returning superstar Du Toit. Plagued by injury in recent years, the 2019 World Player of the Year not only got through 80 minutes of Test rugby but delivered an all-action display in the process.
What makes him an extraordinary talent is his overall excellence and that was on show in the City of Roses. The hybrid athlete featured prominently in every facet of play – he was omnipresent in general play, carried with conviction, tackled manfully (making a joint-pack-high seven hits) and pounced on loose balls.
Plus, he was a key source of lineout ball and a pillar under the restarts. Yes, he was some way off his brilliant best, but as a benchmark for his return to Test rugby, Du Toit delivered in spades.
Evan Roos had a solid debut. The Stormers eighthman brought the energy and power that saw him run roughshod in the United Rugby Championship, making more carries than any other Springbok forward (eight for 18 metres) and having the most gain line success. He was strong on defence as well and the blood that dripped out of his nose was a colourful representation of his determination.
However, of the six fresh faces who made their Springboks bow on the night, the smallest stood the tallest. Arendse’s electrifying speed and footwork earned him the opportunity and he showed his exciting attacking capabilities in confined spaces, making two clean breaks and 47 metres in four carries.
Having said that, it was on defence where the pint-sized winger made the biggest statement. Shooting up like an arrow, a textbook low leg tackle on hard running No.8 Taulupe Faletau first up set the tone for what was a giant-killing defensive display, which included a memorable hit on Liam Williams.
The 26-year-old’s former mentor at UCT, late Springbok legend Chester Williams, would’ve been proud of his protégé’s spirited first outing in the green and gold.