Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – South Africaâ€™s most sterile performance of the Heyneke Meyer era … the only consolation was their ending the series unbeaten after a dour 14-14 draw with England at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth on Saturday.
Greater on-day hunger by the tourists, if nothing else, was probably the key reason the Springboks failed to secure the clean sweep.
On the plus side, there was a compelling case for saying that England didnâ€™t offer quite enough themselves to earn a consolation victory, and that the Boks might well have won – warts and all – had Morne Steyn not had another inexplicably inconsistent day off the kicking tee.
But already there may also be some nervous shudders ahead of the Castle Rugby Championship, after world champions New Zealand showed how to go about dominating a dead-rubber affair with their remarkable 60-0 slaughter of Ireland.
Hereâ€™s how I rated Saturdayâ€™s Bok players:
Gio Aplon 6.5
Gutsy performance by the â€˜little guyâ€™. Did his level best to offer a cutting edge from the back while putting in spirited tackles and mostly being at his post positionally. Mishandled one 50-50 high ball collection.
JP Pietersen 6
Looked mostly threatening on the few occasions he received ball in hand and got into a long stride, and breezed over for only SA try, but was guilty of one butter-fingered moment under a high ball.
Jean de Villiers 6
Like so many Boks, this was his least effective outing of an otherwise strong series. Stuck to his defensive guns, but suffered at outside centre through so few opportunities generated for him.
Wynand Olivier 7
Much maligned as he earned a call-up due to Frans Steynâ€™s nuptials, but give credit where due: policed Manu Tuilagi and others manfully at No 12 and made some vital yards in lead-up to lone Bok try.
Bryan Habana 6.5
Few chances to get into turbo mode, but at least showed commitment on the kick chase and resolve at tackle time. Confirmed his renewed 2012 appetite at this level.
Morne Steyn 5
Truth be told, when the normally ace goal-kicker is stuttering in that area (weirdly the case throughout this series) limitations of his broader game are rather laid bare. Even earned damning boos from PE crowd towards end. Bits of brave defending. Rethink at No 10 required, but will Meyer do it?
Francois Hougaard 5.5
Jury probably still out around whether his best suit is, instead, utility impact off the bench. Not quite enough in this series to nail down regular right to No 9 spot. Had another clearance kick charged down, and tellingly subbed after 50 minutes.
Pierre Spies 6
Fell away a bit in 50th game after impressive Durban and Joâ€™burg Tests. High tackle count, which is again pleasing, but couldnâ€™t get much go-forward in PE and outplayed by direct rival Thomas Waldrom.
Jacques Potgieter 5.5
Not exactly anonymous on his debut, but couldnâ€™t punch Alberts-type holes in England defence … is his what-you-see-is-what-you-get sort of game quite enough at Test level? Only got 54 minutes.
Marcell Coetzee 6.5
Probably the Bok forward who kept his engine running best over 80 minutes in otherwise slightly leaden display by the pack. Good leg drive. Still, some critics may yet lament no orthodox No 6 scavenger?
Juandre Kruger 5.5
Less convincing at the lineout than in either of first two Tests; Victor Matfield suspects England may have worked out some Bok calls. Decent general-play donkeywork.
Eben Etzebeth 6
Heâ€™s been overworked this season – his first one at first-class level, keep in mind – and you sensed this starting to take a toll. Tried hard to make yards in tight-loose and pinched an England lineout, but also fumbled one pass at vital time on attack.
Jannie du Plessis 6
There seemed to be decent enough solidity on the tighthead side of the Bok scrum. Still, could be harshly branded at fault for missing tackle on Danny Care as the scrumhalf wriggled over for Englandâ€™s try.
Bismarck du Plessis 6
Sets lofty standards, and certainly wasnâ€™t rank poor here. But heâ€™s another who went hammer and tongs in first two Tests and couldnâ€™t quite muster such oomph for the finale. Had one especially ropey throw-in period in third quarter before making way.
Beast Mtawarira 6
Couple of prominent tackles, unbudging enough in scrums until dying seconds, but like several Bok bruisers failed to bash through Englandâ€™s iron curtain as a ball-carrier in this one.
Substitutes with meaningful game time:
Ruan Pienaar 6
Got a full half-hour after Hougaard laboured, and did offer slightly more in mix-it-up department. One bobbing, weaving mini-break – and lovely pass for Pietersenâ€™s try.
Ryan Kankowski 6
Flickered promisingly at times after replacing Potgieter. Fair enough physicality and one thunderous tackle on Waldrom, but also dropped tricky low pass from Habana.
Flip van der Merwe 6
Good initial energy after Etzebeth subbed … ultimately no better, no worse.
Adriaan Strauss 6
Sixteen minutes in which few meaningful opportunities to make impression presented themselves. Gritty tackling in closing minutes.
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