Tri Nations 2009: Springbok Player Performances

Sanjay DevaCorrespondent ISeptember 22, 2009

HAMILTON, NEW ZEALAND - SEPTEMBER 12: Victor Matfield (L) and John Smit (R) hold the Tri Nations and Freedom Cups following the Tri Nations Test between the New Zealand All Blacks and South African Springboks at Waikato Stadium on September 12, 2009 in Hamilton, New Zealand.  (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

This season produced the most consistent set of Springbok performances I have seen since 1998. It has been great to see the Boks playing towards their potential, and reaping the rewards for doing so.

As a unit they were exceptional, and this allowed individuals to perform with great distinction. There was rarely a bad performance as individuals, which is a testament to a great coach in Peter de Villiers, who has produced a happy side that can simply concentrate on performing their roles.

Here are my Springbok player ratings for the Tri Nations in 2009.

1. The Beast Mtawarira—7

Has so much talent, and has improved immensely. Needs to put all aspects of his game together at one time. His scrumming was his weak point, however he may also have been unfairly penalised and could not adapt to inconsistent rulings.

His strengths are with the ball in hand, a high workrate, and although the Beast is a highly visible player, it was his work off the ball that impressed me. He made numerous tackles and did the dirty work at the rucks time and time again.

2. Bismarck du Plessis—8

Had a great season and finally showing the promise we've all known he possesses. Strong at the set-piece, goes unrecognised for helping the Springbok lineout dominate. Acts as an extra loose-forward at times, and contributed greatly with physicality and steals at the breakdown.

With ball in hand, du Plessis was always dangerous, often creating offloads. However, his main improvement this season has been his discipline. In the past, du Plessis was too hot-headed; this year he gave away one penalty.

A mark of how far he has come: During the Perth test, he was encouraging John Smit to remain calm after some bizarre rulings.

3. John Smit—8

An inspirational captain; cool, calm, and collected at all times. Is the greatest Springbok captain since Francois Pienaar and a tremendous ambassador for South Africa.

Has coped really well since moving to tighthead prop. Always has a strong workrate around the field. Can be counted on to drive the ball up when needed, and produced strong counter rucking at the rucks.

The scrum in Hamilton where he demolished Tony Woodcock shows there's nothing wrong with his scrumming ability, he just needs to gain greater consistency.

Highlight of the year was his left-footed grubber, which Matfield scored from, in Cape Town. Legendary.

4. Bakkies Botha—8

The Springbok enforcer had his most consistent season in a long time. Knows his role and performs it exceptionally well. Cleans out the rucks, leads the physical challenge from the Boks, and works extremely hard around the fringes. Gave away a few penalties for entering the ruck from the side, but never cost his side.

His cover tackling this year was superb, shutting down dangerous opposition attacks.

5. Victor Matfield—9

John Smit is the leader, and Victor Matfield is the brains of the Springboks. Without peer as a lineout jumper, he unlocked both the All Black and Wallaby lineouts immediately. He spooks the opposition before they have even thrown the ball in.

Scans the field and controls the direction of play particularly well, and works hard to make tackles around the ruck area. His handling was once again superb all around the field, especially in bending down to score the try, collecting John Smit's grubber.

6. Heinrich Brussow—7

Showed the value of having a true opensider. Got the better of both Richie McCaw and  George Smith, which is not easy to do. Effected numerous steals, especially in the South African leg, which helped the Boks dominate territory and possession.

Had one bad game in Brisbane where his handling really let him down, but bounced back strongly in the final match in Hamilton. Deserves his spot ahead of Schalk Burger.

7. Juan Smith—8

The strongman of the Springbok forward pack. Produces great performances week in and week out. Solid on defence, and gets through a mountain of tackles. How he picks himself up to be ever-present and carry the ball forward is beyond me.

Took great options this year when the ball was loose, setting up the next phase of attack.

8. Pierre Spies—7

A solid season from the Superman, but didn't get to show any of his absolute brilliance as he did in the Super 14. Worked really hard making tackles, and carrying the ball up, often from a standing start, yet that never stopped him getting over the advantage line.

Was extremely safe picking the ball up from the base of the scrum, and often had to work behind a unsteady scrum. The one area of improvement needed is fielding the high kicks and getting his timing right under the high ball. Too many balls were left to bounce and luckily caused no harm.

9. Fourie Du Preez—9

The World's best scrumhalf. Stood up in the key games and made his presence felt.

His option taking was great. Cleared the ball well, and took the option to run at the right times. That was highlighted with the quick tap that produced a try in Perth.

Kicked more in the South African leg and his kicks were spot on, giving his chasers the right amount of time to put extreme pressure on the opposition. Also took the high ball brilliantly himself; not sure how such a small guy gets so high in the air! Never spills the high ball.

10. Morne Steyn—9

Playing flyhalf in his debut Bok season, Morne Steyn succeeded brilliantly. After single-handedly securing the British and Irish Lions series, Steyn continued in the same vein, and produced outstanding goal kicking that secured three home victories. Didn't miss a kick in Hamilton and outplayed Dan Carter to ensure the Boks got home.

Steyn's option-taking got better and better, and his willingness to take responsibility to ensure the Boks are moving forward says everything about his attitude and temperament. While Peter de Villiers rates Ruan Pienaar very highly, Steyn ensured he could not be dropped, and I can see him becoming a Springbok legend.

11. Bryan Habana—8

His Tri Nations campaign was characterised by an extremely high workrate off the ball. Made numerous tackles, especially chasing the high kicks. Was equally as good making cover tackles, including two brilliant individual efforts in Brisbane.

It also goes unnoticed how frequently he runs down the right flank and constantly reads the game to help himself contribute for his side.

Showed in Perth how dangerous he can be when he has the ball and ran exceptional lines to score from a set scrum.

12. Jean de Villiers—7

Got better as the season went on. Solid in defence, carried the ball strongly, and finished off with a trademark intercept try. His partnership with Jaque Fourie ensured the Springboks had a solid midfield.

13. Jaque Fourie—7

Was exceptionally solid one-on-one, under the high ball and in the Springbok midfield. Scored a couple of great tries (Bloemfontein and Perth), but made a few too many errors in the last couple of games.

Unfairly suspended at the conclusion of the Tri Nations, probably due to the Springboks' success, which doesn't sit well with the Aussies and Kiwis.

14. JP Pietersen—7

Is a complete winger and, like Habana, works hard off the ball. Chased kicks tirelessly, made numerous tackles, and carried the ball strongly when required.

His kicking has come on over the last couple of years, but remains his one weakness.

15. Francois Steyn—8

Provided the "x" factor in Hamilton with his long-range goal kicking. In the past, Steyn has been fairly inaccurate with his goal kicking, usually with a strike rate closer to one in three. In Hamilton, he nailed three from three, all over 50m! Unheard of.

Was solid at the back with his kicking game, but could have joined the line more often and created more opportunities to score tries. Has shown he will be sorely missed as he heads to France.

Chiliboy Ralepelle

Not used often enough to make an assessment.

Jannie du Plessis

Not used often enough to make an assessment.

Andries Bekker—4

Is enthusiastic, but lacks the bulk of a Bakkies Botha or the skill of Victor Matfield. A hard ask to replace Bakkies Botha, as he is not in the same mould. Highly respected by Victor Matfield and will grow into a better player with more time.

Danie Rousouw—5

Remains a great bench option, but his impact was barely noticed this series. Perhaps suffering from lack of game time, but needed to provide greater ability to get his side moving forward as a ball carrier.

Schalk Burger—5

A much better player playing on the blindside. Physical and abrasive, but lacks the accuracy he had a few years back. Always gives 100 percent and remains a good option for the bench.

Ryan Kankowski

Not used often enough to make an assessment.

Ricky Januarie

Not used often enough to make an assessment.

Adi Jacobs—5

Came on in Brisbane and made crucial errors. The game was being lost in other areas, but ensured his performances were not seen in a positive light when opportunities were so limited.

Ruan Pienaar—6

Lost his flyhalf position after an inept goal kicking display in Bloemfontein. Remains a dangerous threat when running the ball, but needs to exhibit greater consistency with his kicking. Not sure that fullback is a position he should pursue, and needs more game time at flyhalf.

Odwa Ndungane—8

Performed well when coming in for JP Pietersen. Works hard off the ball and chased the kicks well. Lacks the same physicality of Pietersen, which counts against him in tight games, but a handy backup player.

Peter de Villiers—9

Showed how much he has learned over the last 12 months. The fact that this is the happiest Springbok side in a long time is translated in their on-field performances. I like the fact the players are empowered to make greater decisions and not behave as robots. And the players are thriving under his leadership.

Outperformed Graham Henry and Robbie Deans. Had plans to counter their strengths and, other than Brisbane, his rivals could not counter his game plan. Could become one of the great Springbok coaches.


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