Heyneke Meyer told the fringe Springboks to stand tall against Italy. Nizaam Carr, however, stood the tallest, writes MARK KEOHANE.
Carr has been brilliant for the Stormers and Western Province this season and his first touch in a Springbok jersey was of similar brilliance.
It was also a moment that was desperately needed because the Boks were facing the potential embarrassment of a first-ever defeat against Italy.
The Boks led 8-6 after 58 minutes when Carr, a blood replacement, ran a superb support line, advanced the ball to within the Italian 22 and committed more than one defender to the tackle, stood firm in the tackle and produced a magical offload to gift Cobus Reinach a try that enabled the Boks to stretch a two-point lead to nine.
Italy, physical and passionate, were competitive but did not have the creativity in their backs or the collective attacking component to make up a two-score deficit.
The Boks never looked like advancing the nine-point lead and it took Willie le Roux’s magical delayed offload to Handré Pollard to set up an 80th-minute Bryan Habana try.
Carr’s impact was immediate. So too Willie le Roux.
These two moments from two of South Africa’s most attacking players, determined the outcome.
My match prediction was a 15-point Bok win, but I expected them to be far more impressive in getting the 15-point win.
Meyer started with 11 of the starting lineup that beat England, but the Boks again showed an inability to back up the intensity we saw against England.
It's worth noting the Boks, when their backs are to the wall, can beat any team in a one-off. Yet they invariably struggle to match a similar intensity when considered the favourites or expected to comfortably beat opposition.
This is why they are second in the world and the All Blacks for the past five years have consistently been the leading team.
The All Blacks do back up big performances and there's no way to gloss over the disappointment of the Bok win against Italy.
It confirmed the immense value of Le Roux, the pedigree of Pollard at No 10 and the investment that has to be made at an international level when it comes to Carr.
South Africa produces so many quality loose forwards, but Carr is not shaped in the traditional South African mould of player. He is more creative on the ball, reads the play so well and has time on the ball, which is always considered to be an attribute of what defines the great players from the good ones.
Carr has the potential to be a great over the next decade if he remains injury-free. I’ve written that repeatedly this year. He doesn’t lack for physicality and he certainly doesn’t lack in big-game temperament.
He was awesome in the Currie Cup final and his first touch as an international player was memorable because it showed every positive characteristic of his playing style.
South Africa will be better against Wales because it will be backs-to-the-wall stuff. The players will get motivated and arrive with an intensity we saw against England. But the evolution of this team from No 2 to No 1 will only ever be complete when they produce the necessary intensity week to week and not every second or third week.
Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images