After 608 days, South Africa got to see their beloved World Champion Springboks make their long awaited return to the test arena last night against Georgia. The team showed an obvious lack of game time, but grew in stature as the game wore on. The first hit out will have helped the team dust off the cob webs and a much improved performance should be expected for next week.
On a cold night in Pretoria the Springboks scored early through debutant Aphelele Fassi who had an outstanding first appearance in the green and gold. He showed great hands, whilst scoring a try and setting up one for scrumhalf Cobus Rienach with a cheeky take and chip kick put the 9 in space.
Up front the forwards took a while to get their engine firing against a strong Georgian scrum. The Boks lost one lineout in the fixture as a result of poor communication but other than that managed to retain their own ball in both set pieces. The second half injection from the bench was a masterstroke as the Springboks began to choke the Georgian pack and earn the right to spread the ball wide.
Pieter-Steph du Toit was easily the best player on the night with some rampaging runs up the middle whilst getting through an immense workload on defense. Handre Pollard also put in a solid performance and put to rest any doubts about his fitness after his ACL injury last year.
Frans Steyn and Jessie Kriel struggled to impose themselves in the game and the communication in the backline will need to improve drastically before they line up against the British & Irish Lions. Whilst only Willie le Roux and Pollard were starters in the World Cup Final, next week is likely to see the return of Kolbe, Mapimpi, De Allende, Am and Faf de Klerk to the starting side.
Rosco Specman struggled to get the ball in his first outing but showed good enterprise with his limited opportunities. Damian Willemse was brought on at center in the second half with Jacques Nienaber showing his hand a little. If Willemse makes the transition successfully, the Springboks just may have an answer to the massive whole Frans Steyn will leave when he hangs up his boots. Willemse could then potentially cover 10-12-15.
Elton Jantjies failed to impress off the bench as he wasted possession with senseless kicking that often went into touch. He did himself no favors when one considers the consistent and in form Morne Steyn is fighting him for a spot in the team. The Lions playmaker continues to underperform at test level and needs to greatly improve if he wants the coaching staff to reconsider the now infamous 6-2 bomb squad split on the bench to make space for him.
Whilst there is a lot of improvement needed from the Springboks, this first hit out will have helped the coaching staff focus on areas of the game that have now been tested in active battle. A stronger side is likely to turn out next week in the return fixture but one cant help but think a 3rd test would be very beneficial to the Springboks before they face the best of the North.
Our Springbok player ratings:
Ox Nche (5/10)
Bongi Mbonambi (6/10)
Trevor Nyakane (5/10)
Eben Etzebeth (5/10)
Franco Mostert (6/10)
Siya Kolisi (5/10)
Pieter-Steph Du Toit (9/10)
Kwagga Smith (6/10)
Cobus Reinach (5/10)
Handre Pollard (7/10)
Aphelele Fassi (8/10)
Frans Steyn (4/10)
Jessie Kriel (4/10)
Rosco Specman (4/10)
Willie Le Roux (6/10)