CRAIG LEWIS picks three standout players from the Boks’ Rugby Championship campaign.
Etzebeth was a colossus this season. Entrusted with the captaincy for the duration of the competition in the absence of Warren Whiteley, Etzebeth appeared to enjoy the extra responsibility. Besides one hot-headed moment when he charged into Israel Folau in an off-the-ball incident in Bloemfontien, Etzebeth generally kept his composure and led the team with aplomb. The 25-year-old reserved his best performance for last Saturday’s final encounter against the All Blacks, while he was one of the Boks’ most consistently impactful players throughout the Rugby Championship. While the Boks used three different players in the No 5 jersey, Etzebeth started all six Tests at No 4, with the AllOutRugby.com statistics indicating that he was ranked first for lineouts won (22), seventh for ball carries (59), first for tackle breaks (10) and boasted a tackle-completion success rate of 91%.
Over the course of the Rugby Championship, the Springboks used four different loose-forward combinations as injuries struck, but Kolisi remained the one constant pillar of strength. The Stormers skipper personified the new team culture that the Boks are aiming to embrace, with his work rate and uncompromising effort ensuring he regularly punched above his weight. Besides scoring three tries of his own, the manner in which Kolisi bumped off Kurtley Beale to set up a crucial try in Bloemfontein spoke volumes for his evolution as a ball-carrier in the wider channels. Yet Kolisi also completed plenty of grunt work, with the loose forward regularly flying in to clear out players at ruck time, while he also perfectly timed a number of defensive hits when he shot out of line like a missile to complete a ball-and-all tackle. This has been a career-defining season to date for Kolisi, and his influence in a new-look back row cannot be underestimated.
The Boks’ abrasive hooker was the man of the moment this past Saturday as he produced a powerful all-round performance that even earned the adulation of the Kiwi media, with the New Zealand Herald giving him a 10 out of 10 rating. Particularly in one aspect of his play it was essentially a case of going from zero to hero, with Marx having copped plenty of criticism when the Boks’ lineout completely malfunctioned in the 57-0 thrashing against the All Blacks in Albany on 16 September. So what would probably have pleased Marx more than his four turnovers or well-taken try at Newlands is the fact that the lineouts operated far more efficiently on Saturday. Although Marx’s lineout throwing is a continual work-in-progress, he offers so many other strengths, with the 23-year-old ending the tournament ranked first for turnovers won (10), while his 56 ball carries see him ranked 11th. Marx is a man on a mission, and every indication from the Rugby Championship suggests he is set to add plenty more Test caps to his current tally of 11.
Photo: Wessel Oosthuizen/Gallo Images