The Springboks finished the World Cup as worthy winners. In the latest issue of SA Rugby magazine, we provide our player ratings for the triumphant 31-man squad.
Lukhanyo Am (8/10)
It’s always tricky to make a finite assessment of the efforts of Am, who does so much work off the ball when it comes to the communication and organisation of the Boks’ intricate defensive system. The fact Am started six out of the Boks’ seven games speaks volumes about his importance to the side, though, and he left his best for last with a superb performance in the final.
Damian de Allende (9)
For a player who seems to so often be on the receiving end of criticism from Springbok supporters, there is no doubt De Allende was the biggest winner at this World Cup. The 27-year-old added much-needed impetus for the Boks, along with a presence on defence and at the breakdown. His powerful try in the Springboks’ semi-final was a game-changer and undoubtedly one of the individual highlights of the tournament.
Faf de Klerk (8)
De Klerk was a player who had to weather his fair share of criticism, based mostly around his propensity to put boot to ball. Although his box kicks didn’t always have the desired consistency, he was performing according to the team’s gameplan. As the Boks’ most experienced Test scrumhalf, and as a terrier on defence, he added immense value to a side that plays predominantly off No 9.
Warrick Gelant (7)
Although the backup fullback understandably received only limited game time at this World Cup, he made the most of it. Against Namibia, he played 80 minutes, scored a try, made 80m and executed five clean breaks. He banked another try against Canada and will undoubtedly have benefited from the all-round experience of his first World Cup.
Elton Jantjies (7)
Unfortunately, the mercurial flyhalf wasn’t able to earn a spot on the bench for the Boks’ big games as they predominantly opted for a 6-2 forwards-to-backs split. He started against Namibia and Canada, and it was his performance against the North Americans that stood out as he kicked beautifully at goal and from hand.
Herschel Jantjies (7)
Plenty of fanfare followed the rising star as he entered the World Cup on the back of some stunning performances in the Rugby Championship. Although Jantjies was preferred as the backup No 9 to De Klerk, his opportunities were rather limited but he did enjoy a start against Namibia. The 23-year-old is one of the players who could feature in two more World Cups.
Cheslin Kolbe (9)
Kolbe set the World Cup alight during the pool stages, starring in the Boks’ opener against the All Blacks in a losing cause, while he produced a scintillating two-try display against Italy. Unfortunately, he picked up an ankle injury in that game, which appeared to hamper him in the quarter-final against Japan. A recurrence of the injury suffered against the hosts ruled him out of the semi-final but he was back to his effervescent best in the title decider, which included a stunning solo try late in the game.
S’bu Nkosi (7)
Nkosi’s path to regular game time was blocked due to the outstanding form of fellow right wing Cheslin Kolbe, but he did receive starts against Namibia and Canada in the pool stages. An injury to Kolbe opened the door for Nkosi to start in the semi-final against Wales and, despite some rustiness on defence, he produced the odd trademark carry.
Willie le Roux (7)
The veteran Bok fullback endured a challenging World Cup campaign where he just couldn’t seem to discover his attacking mojo. At times, Le Roux looked vulnerable under the high ball, while his handling also let him down, but Erasmus resolutely backed the 30-year-old to add experience and organisation to the Boks’ backline. A lot of his off-the-ball work didn’t receive due credit and he earned some redemption with a solid performance in the final.
Makazole Mapimpi (9)
The Springboks’ flyer enjoyed a World Cup that was surely beyond even his wildest expectations. Along with a two-try display in the quarter-final, Mapimpi also became the first South African to score a five-pointer in a World Cup final to take his try tally for the tournament to six. Besides beating 18 defenders, he also finished a memorable tournament with 395m made and an 87% tackle success rate.
Handre Pollard (8)
Pollard displayed the maturity of a much-improved flyhalf at his second World Cup. In particular, he showed real composure off the kicking tee, most particularly when he slotted a crucial match-winning penalty in the semi-final against Wales. The 25-year-old looked best when taking the ball flat and with purpose and it is an enticing prospect that he is young enough to be involved at the 2023 World Cup in France.
Cobus Reinach (7)
Of course, Reinach’s magic moments came
in the 66-7 thrashing of Canada, with the speedy scrumhalf scoring a hat-trick inside the first 20 minutes. It was a feat that broke the record for the fastest hat-trick in World Cup history and it was undoubtedly his highlight of a World Cup where he served as the third-choice scrumhalf.
Frans Steyn (8)
The veteran’s value to the Springbok side was evident by the fact he featured in six out of seven games and, while that saw him predominantly coming off the bench, it was an important role. With Erasmus favouring a 6-2 forwards-to-backs split on the bench, Steyn made this configuration possible due to his ability to cover flyhalf, centre and fullback.
Schalk Brits (8)
In many ways, it was a grand farewell for the 38-year-old. ‘Oom’ Schalk interestingly started at No 8 against Namibia, but never looked out of place. He was equally industrious against Canada, when he scored his second try of the tournament in his final performance for the Springboks. A large part of his value was also added off the field.
Pieter-Steph du Toit (9)
The World Rugby Player of the Year was unstoppable at this World Cup. Over the past 12 months, Du Toit has established himself as one of the most formidable blindside flanks in the world game and his dominant tackling was an integral link in the Boks’ defensive system. In five matches, he made a standout 61 tackles.
Lood de Jager (8)
The towering, baby-faced lock powered his way back into the starting lineup through sheer weight of performance. Besides his strengths at the lineout and ball-carrying ability, De Jager also recorded a standout 96% tackle success rate, although his appearance in the final was unfortunately cut short due to injury.
Eben Etzebeth (7)
The 28-year-old went through the World Cup under a cloud of controversy due to allegations of assault on the eve of the Boks’ departure. Early on in the competition, it appeared that he was not firing on all cylinders, but his influence slowly and surely began to have a telling effect – most notably his 94% tackle success rate.
Steven Kitshoff (8)
The prop embraced a role change at the World Cup, with Rassie Erasmus opting to start Beast Mtawarira in most of the ‘big’ games, while deploying Kitshoff as an impact player in the second half. For the most part it worked well, with Kitshoff’s fresh legs allowing the Springboks to maintain their scrum intensity.
Vincent Koch (7)
Trevor Nyakane’s misfortune saw Koch elevated into the match 23 and he certainly added value with his mobility and strength at the set pieces. Playing at his first World Cup, the 29-year-old would have been thrilled to receive more game time than he initially would have expected.
Siya Kolisi (9)
Kolisi overcame an injury just before the tournament and got better and better as the World Cup went on. As one of the tournament’s leading defenders (57 tackles made, 92% success), he rediscovered his best form at just the right time. Beyond his on-field role, Kolisi also led the team with aplomb and embraced the extra responsibility that comes with the captaincy of the Springbok side on the biggest stage of all.
Francois Louw (8)
‘Flo’ may not always be the biggest fan favourite, but he does the dirty work. The importance of his experience and breakdown role should not be underestimated. The Boks placed a premium on competing at the rucks, and Louw’s standout moment came when he won a crucial breakdown penalty late in the semi-final against Wales.
Frans Malherbe (7)
All credit to Malherbe. Some may have questioned the selectors’ persistence with the big prop as the starting No 3, but his job became increasingly crucial after Nyakane headed home, and he came into his own as a premier scrummager with improved work rate.
Bongi Mbonambi (9)
What a tournament this was for Mbonambi. The 28-year-old hit the form of his life heading into the tournament and deservedly earned first rights to the No 2 jersey. Besides his almost faultless lineout throwing, Mbonambi was a powerful presence at ruck time and on defence. In total, he made 33 tackles with a 100% success rate.
Malcolm Marx (8)
The highly-regarded hooker also had to accept a change in role when Mbonambi was preferred as the starting No 2, but there was massive value in his ability to add impact with a flat-out performance late in the game. Despite a relative downturn in game time, he still finished the tournament with 66 metres made and 22 carries, which included a big shift in the final.
Franco Mostert (7)
The lanky lock may not have received the most game time, but his role on a 6-2 bench should not be underestimated. His lineout steal late in the game against Wales was also a thing of beauty.
Beast Mtawarira (9)
What a memorable World Cup swansong this was for the ever-popular 34-year-old. Restored to the starting berth at loosehead, Mtawarira produced a string of rousing performances. He was indomitable at scrum time and also made a whopping 38 tackles with a 97% success rate.
Kwagga Smith (7)
Although the former Blitzboks star offered the Boks plenty of firepower, the extra loose-forward spot in the matchday 23 ultimately went to Francois Louw. Limited to two starts in the ‘smaller’ pool games, Smith beat four defenders in an industrious effort against Canada but didn’t quite seem to have the expected impact against Namibia.
RG Snyman (8)
The Boks’ Viking was a star performer at his first World Cup, which saw him add immense value off the bench and drew calls for him to earn regular selection in the run-on XV. Snyman scored a memorable try, made 23 runs, 22 carries and completed 69 metres, while recording an 88% tackle success rate.
Duane Vermeulen (9)
The veteran No 8 got through a mountain of work at the tournament, and was undoubtedly one of the Boks’ most important players. At the set pieces, kick-offs, breakdown, on defence and as a ball-carrier, Vermeulen was omnipresent. In addition, the 33-year-old was an influential leadership figure at probably his last World Cup.
TOO LITTLE TIME TO RATE
Out: Jesse Kriel
Although the experienced midfielder looked set to play an important role as an impact player off the bench, he suffered an injury in the opening game and was ruled out for the rest of the tournament.
In: Damian Willemse
Having just settled down for a loan spell at Saracens, the 21-year-old was elated to get a call-up to the Springboks. He featured in just one match, scoring a try in an energetic display from fullback against Canada.
Out: Trevor Nyakane
The ever-smiling prop was another player whose World Cup campaign came to an end before it had even really begun. A serious calf injury sustained against the All Blacks in the opening match prevented him from playing what was
sure to be an extensive role in Japan.
In: Thomas du Toit
Similarly to Willemse, Du Toit had taken up a short-term loan deal with an overseas club but rushed from Toulouse to Japan, where he featured off the bench against Namibia and started in the thrashing of Canada.