Mapimpi’s RWC dream in jeopardy?

Dear mercurial South African rugby fan, please lay off Makazole Mapimpi!

I get it. He blundered badly by misreading a pass which led to Jack Goodhue’s try from a classic All Blacks counterattack – but other than that, what did he do wrong on Saturday?

Following up on last week’s assessment of the race for places in Rassie Erasmus’ World Cup squad, I thought that Mapimpi, Lukhanyo Am and Cheslin Kolbe were magnificent in pocketing the fearsome New Zealand back three of Rieko Ioane, Ben Smith and Beauden Barrett.

It was one of the most impressive defensive efforts I have seen from an outside centre and his supporting wings in a long, long time. Am’s marshalling of the backline’s defensive patterns on first and second phase harked back to the days of the great Jaque Fourie, who in his prime had no equal in this facet of play.

The Boks have come a long way since 2018 and that hairy, incoming series against England when the Roses toyed with an inexperienced 13/11 and 13/14 combination. Settling on a starting 13 may be causing Rassie a few headaches – does he go with the defensively sound Am or the more explosive Jesse Kriel in Argentina and beyond? That’s a tough one.

Thankfully, it is patently clear is that pocket-rocket Cheslin Kolbe is certainly the number one right wing in the land. What was enjoyable about his performance was how it was almost mistake-free, his third in a row against New Zealand.

With number 14 sorted out, I still feel that injured Aphiwe Dyantyi is the best on the left, leaving Sbu Nkosi and Mapimpi to tussle for a spot on the bench. In the wider 31-man squad for Rugby World Cup 2019, I suspect Erasmus may favour a utility back for the trip to Japan, which will be advantageous for the versatile Kriel but problematic for specialist wingers such as Mapimpi or Nkosi.

Contextually, Willie Le Roux is a certain starter at fullback, while the electrifying Damian Willemse is back in South Africa, racing against time to recover from injury. This benefits Warrick Gelant greatly, but he is yet to turn the selectors’ heads fully, with the subtext of three out-and-out fullbacks unlikely to go to the World Cup and Willemse a nice option to add depth to the flyhalf stocks.

If you have followed the thread of my argument, then you now understand that a good wing and/or fullback are not going to make it on that plane to the Far East!

Thankfully, the scrumhalf matter is settled once and for all. Faf de Klerk was not exactly at the top of his game against the Kiwis, with an inconsistent kicking performance and unusually slow clearance speed from the rucks, but he is not expendable. His replacement, Hershel Jantjies, impressed once again in what must have been a heady week of international rugby for him, and it was only fitting that he scored the match-tying try. With Cobus Reinach in the mix, the perfect trio of 9s has suddenly emerged to book tickets for the global showpiece.

A workman-like Handre Pollard was in no position to dictate play in what was an absorbing arm-wrestle up front, but will be disappointed that he missed a crucial penalty which would have pushed the Boks out to a 9-0 lead, proving monumental in what turned out to be a low-scoring affair.

Considering how Elton Jantjies is his direct replacement, with Frans Steyn covering centre and flyhalf (and noting the point I made about Willemse earlier), the Boks are quite safe in this department.

Special mention must go to inside centre Damian de Allende, who silenced his critics with a strong performance that kept Sonny Bill Williams and Anton Liernert-Brown at bay. He carried very well, while also tackling tenaciously, and will likely bench Steyn as a result.

Among the forwards, the world-class Trevor Nyakane made a strong case for why he should be the starting tighthead prop. He steadied the scrum just as it was about to implode when Frans Malherbe (who must now be at risk of missing the flight) was hooked off.

Lizo Gqoboka is likely to get a run against Argentina to secure his spot in the squad. Pieter-Steph du Toit made a case for being considered the game’s preeminent blindside flank with a monstrous performance, underlined by him using the black arts to impede Vaea Fifita and then put off Aaron Smith in the lead up to Jantjies’ try.

The only asterisk among the loose forwards is what will happen now that openside Kwagga Smith – who was impressive in shading Matt Todd – must be reckoned with, considering that Marcel Coetzee and Francois Louw are part of the pecking order below injured captain Siya Kolisi.

The Boks can win the Rugby Championship – their first major trophy since 2009 – if they smash the pesky Los Pumas in Salta on the 10th of August, or by matching the All Blacks’ haul of log points against the Wallabies earlier that day, so you can bet on Rassie selecting a full-strength squad for that one.

One week later, with the pressure off he will probably show his hand by giving the World Cup dirt-trackers a go in the one-off Test against Argentina at Loftus Versfeld. Unless injuries change the plan, it’s unlikely he will introduce new players this late in proceedings.

Ninety percent of the squad is set in stone, and good luck to him and the selection panel in deciding on the remaining percent – the mercurial South African rugby fan is hard to please!

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- Keba Mothoagae

Let's chat

  • Johan

    While I agree with you in the main, I have to disagree on a few points.

    “Faf de Klerk was not exactly at the top of his game against the Kiwis, with an inconsistent kicking performance and unusually slow clearance speed from the rucks”

    I distinctly remember the commentators pointing out that Faf’s box kicks have been “extremely accurate tonight” and his slow clearance was clearly the game plan, we opted to set up box kicks and pressure the back 3. We also dominated the first half with this tactic. We REALLY struggled the entire second half with Faf off the field.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big Hershel fan, and he played well against the nr1 team, I just disagree that Faf had a bad game. I feel he did brilliantly, his “slow” passing was also a lot quicker when we were attacking in their 22.

    Clearly this was our game plan.

    Mapimpi wasn’t bad, but he also wasn’t good:
    ” but other than that, what did he do wrong on Saturday?”

    Better question is, what did he do to deserve his place on Saturday?

    Kolbe had 5 runs for 54 meters
    Mapimpi had 9m from 2 runs (wingers HAVE to go looking for work on attack)

    Last year Dyantyi had 2 tries 39 meters from 4 runs, 2 defenders beaten and 3 clean breaks against NZ…

    Mapimpi’s problem is he will be replaced…

    Finally a shoutout to Kwagga
    He didn’t do so well in ratings by SA media sport24 gave him 6.5/10 and sarugbymag gave him 7,
    but in other circles he was rated in dream teams: (this is rated by a NZ’er)

    His workrate was incredible, his chip kick amazing and, most importantly, he “legally” slowed down NZ ball at almost every one of their rucks! This was one of the major reasons our excellent defense almost always had time to set.

    Good game boks, next time we want a win :D

    • Winston

      I agree with the article, Faff was poor. Because one subjective commentator falsely accused Faff of kicking accurately, does not make it true. He was poor.

      With reference to Kwagga, I do agree with your comment, he played well. (As a fan of Marcel Coetzee, I must confess to being disapointed with his current form and fitness. I would take Kwagga, if it was a choice between the 2.)
      Mapimpi, I felt, was most unimpressive

      • Johan

        @Winston, you are welcome to your opinion, but you have to admit, our tactics was a lot less effective in the second half when Faf wasn’t on the field.?

      • Dean Bright

        Marcell was brilliant the entire Pro14 season. You can’t say he’s out of form, he didn’t put a foot wrong in his tiny cameo. Personally, I’d pick him ahead of Kwagga because of his utility value. He can play any position in the backline. Who replaces PS if he’s injured during the WC? Also, Kolisi and Kwagga are similar players. Marcell brings a different dimension to the trio.

  • Barry

    Sorry but your whole article hinges around your opinion that Dyantyi is the first choice right wing. In the first instances, he is injured and his return is uncertain. Secondly, he had a very average Super Rugby and was certainly well behind Nkosi and Mpimpi in terms of performance.

    Professional sport is dynamic – performance and form are ever changing, so to hang your hat on a player based on form some 13 months back is not a great strategy!

    As things stand and injuries permitting I would suggest that Kolbe, Nkosi and Mpimpi will be the three WC wings. Steyn and Kriel will be picked as utility backs because they cover most every position in the backline.

    Good luck to Dyantyi, I hope he makes a great come back but I fear it is too late for the WC!

    Are there not surely more meaningful positional debates. Front row is a pretty hot topic. None of our hookers are looking great and our stalwarts in the firwards are fading after 50. These would surely be more meaningful topics for discussion?

    • Herman

      Barry as I recall most of these players had consistently average to poor SR seasons. Probably coaching but it’s clear Rassie has not used form as a primary indicator for his choices. I still maintain, apart from a few exceptions, a majority of our squad are not truly world class and it could still come back to bite us at the WC. Cheers.

  • John Comyn

    Mpimpi made a mistake and it cost us a try. Otherwise he was pretty solid in defense and never got a lot of opportunity but as Johan said, good wings need to look for work. A good example is Kolbe. Also as Barry says, I would go with Mpimpi ahead of Dyanti. As much as I don’t like to pick out individuals I thought Willie was poor and he poses a problem come WC. I think the “x factor” is long gone. I hope he proves me wrong.

  • John Comyn

    Johan – totally agree with you on Faf. I would like to see Cobus Reinach get a start against the Argies. He looked sharp in his little cameo against the Wallabies.

    • Johan

      Faf is concussed and Hershel’s proved himself, I would also like to see Reinach start, with Hershel on the bench for the Arg game…

  • Ulrich

    Mapimpi looked a lot slower than I originally thought he was. Good smoked by Goodhue.

    • Ulrich

      Got smoked by Goodhue*

  • Nick

    We still have 3 games to go before world cup kick off against nz in Japan. Let’s see how different this conversation is in about 4 weeks time.

    We’ve also been relatively lucky having no injuries in the first two games. Things can easily change. Building our depth rather than chucking players away after a few bad moments is not what’s needed now. For the next one maybe colbe needs to recover and nkosi get an extended run. Interested to see the team for the pumas.

  • Stifler

    Would like to add my 2cents here.

    It’s all good, painting the backline with bright colours just to satisfy your own rugby dream, however if we look closely, we have a very dull, unimaginative backline. Now obviously you can look at it in two ways, one, it could be the fault of the backline/attacking coach, or, the players we selected are just not international quality?

    Lets look at the super rugby stats, none of our teams really showed lots of attacking intent. Now you select players from the Stormers and Sharks to make up most of your backline, how do you justify this? Lets look closer at the amount of tries each SA team scored and how many backline players have been selected to be part of the national squad:
    Stormers: ranked 14th with total amount of tries (equal to the Sunwolves who ended rock bottom)
    Sharks: ranked 13th with total amount of tries

    The backline that ran out against the All blacks:
    10: Pollard (Bulls and top point scorer for 2019)
    11: Mapimpi (Sharks)
    12: Damien de Allende (Stormers)
    13: Lukanyo Am (Sharks)
    14: Cheslin (Overseas)
    15: Willie le Roux (Overseas)

    We have a total of three players, who play a major role in our backline, from two of the bottom dwellers in the Super rugby competition. You cannot simply be rated as a brilliant player if you can defend well, but you have no idea how to attack, or for that matter, show any sense of flair or creativity. Lukanyo Am can never be equal to the player Jacque Fourie was at his prime, he was not only a brilliant defensive player, but he had the ability to attack and score tries. It also helped that he had a brilliant 12 to assist him.

    We cannot win a WC if we are unable to convert our possession into points. And we cannot be number one and retain that title with that gameplan. Our backline players are not good enough, and we either need different players, with better attacking instinct, or better tactical coaches that can make us more of a threat.

    • Herman

      Well done Stifler a man after my own heart. To back your argument it’s been said that you cannot win the WC based mainly on defence or not being able to score tries against the top ranking sides. Scoring 10 tries against for example Namibia does not make you a world beater.

      I think the operative word is instinct. In the cauldron of test or WC rugby your instincts take over from all the other senses. Unless you play that expansive game consistently at top level you will more than likely miss the opportunity at crucial moments in those tense matches. Cheers.

    • Barry

      Ah, a blogger posting under guise offering small change, as an entre’.

      So you’ve attacked the Springbok backline, the Stormers and the Sharks, but offer absolutely no alternative or solution!

      Not really worth correcting your post, but perhaps contemplate a few facts you overlooked:

      Our 9’s are also backline players, so maybe add them to your list. Jantjies (junior) has been a revelations and de Klerk and Reinach were nominated for best Europe player of the year!

      It seems a little funny that whilst you have criticized the Stormers and Sharks players in our National backline you have carefully skirted Elton Jantjies. The player that for two years in a row has topped the Super Rugby “missed tackle” stats, has been excluded from selection for disciplinary reasons, could not hold down his position constantly at the Lions. More recently against Australia he received a 45 % recycle from his 9, but only passed to his 12 twice in 50 minutes of that match!

      How did this escape your close vigilance, was it perhaps difficult to see through rose tinted glasses, I wonder !

      • Stifler

        So intense, you need to calm down, see a doctor or something because you seem to have a knee jerk reaction for everything.

        Am I the springbok coach? No
        Is it my responsibility to come up with solutions? No
        I’m a rugby supporter, and my opinion has got nothing to do with provincialism, I quoted stats from super rugby.
        I’m from Cape Town, I’ve been a WP/Stormers supporter my entire life. So to base your theory that I’m raising my opinion based on provincialism has completely failed. I’m looking at it from a general, non biased point of view, which you have completed failed to do.

        Elton Jantjies has never been one of my top favourite players, but what I can say is that he had a great game against Australia, and I’ll give him credit for that. We lack creative backline players, we have two centres who has shown absolutely NOTHING on attack. Damien de Allende last had a good season in 2015. Lukhanyo Am has shown that he can defend, but I’m still waiting to see if he can attack. He certainly never showed that in super rugby. Bottom dwellers on attack. And even if they(the Sharks) had great defense, it certainly did not take them all the way to the final did it? The Jaguares showed them up this year at Kings Park my friend.

        The Lions have shown us SA fans how to attack the last three to four seasons. Yes, they have lost a massive amount of experience with players leaving, and Ackers also going over to the UK, so you can understand why they failed to impress this year.

        If we, the Springboks are aiming to be the number 1 team in the workd, we need to have a healthy balance in defense, AND attack. Something the AB’s have done very well for a large number of years.

        Again, this is my own opinion, it was never based on provincialism, it is solely based on the bok backline performance. your response clearly showed me how arrogant you are, and actually how quickly you attack people if they dislike members of the team you support.

        Kisses and hugs

      • Herman

        Wow Barry you’ve taken a bit of a knock here my friend so I won’t add to it. Me still thinks you rely too much on stats. As I’ve responded to Stifler the question of instincts is my main concern and the need to score tries against the top boys is paramount. Can we with the current batch with one or two exceptions ? I’m not too optimistic.

        • Mike

          It is very difficult for any backline these days to lighg up the world,line speed in defence is so prominent in all teams.ABs were rattled first half by this defence system and uncharacteristically dropped balls,gave turnovers etc..Don’t expect the Bok backline to suddenly find gaping holes,they’re simply not there.Kudos to the Boks for an impressive defensive effort and we have to remember, they’ll be better.This squad has only been together for less than two years as opposed to the Kiwis who always have great continuation.

        • Barry

          Just a cheap Provincial shot called out and put to bed, is my take on it.

          It’s funny how these people never have any constructive proposals to make, just leap in with a bit of criticism and pop back onto the fence!

          Stats are merely a record of what happened on the field and they serve as a valuable tool to confirm proceedings. They are not perfect, but they are a long way up from the various “IMO’s” that are offered in reverent testament without a threat of fact!

      • Johan

        Ah, a blogger posting under guise offering small change, as an entre’.

        So you’ve attacked a player that wasn’t even mentioned, and while he was playing at Ellis park 5 tries were scored… and the team that scored the most tries in SR, but offer absolutely no alternative or solution!

        Not really worth correcting your post, but perhaps contemplate a few facts you overlooked:
        Elton in tackling at 71% (99 tackles made 41 missed)
        Mo’unga is tackling at 68% (76 tackles made 35 missed)
        Foley is tackling at 73% (108 tackles made 39 missed)
        Barrett is tackling at 78%…
        Pollart is tackling at 81%

        And as we ALL know a flyhalf’s main focus is tackling, oh wait, didn’t Mo’unga WIN Super Rugby?

        You complain about Elton’s passing, but he made 32 passes in that game, Pollard only made 13 passes total, in 80 minutes of rugby…

        How did this escape your close vigilance, was it perhaps difficult to see through stormers tinted glasses, I wonder !

        We cannot win a WC if we are unable to convert our possession into points. And we cannot be number one and retain that title with that gameplan. Our backline players are not good enough, and we either need different players, with better attacking instinct, or better tactical coaches that can make us more of a threat.

        (beside Pollard should be first choice with Elton on the bench, Frans at 12 and Kriel at 13, Cheslin 14, Willie 15 and we need a new 11 as Mapimpi just isn’t good enough)

        • Barry

          Good to see you don’t like it either when the boot is on the other foot!

          Passes in the Aussie test – blah blah, he passed twice to his 12 in 50 minutes, thats a a problem in any ones book!

          Elton has the worst miss tackle rate for two years running in the entire Super Rugby competition. You cannot tap dance around that fact!

          In the NZ test, we played off nine – Pollard only got 35 % recycle. In the Aussie test we played off ten. Surely you noticed that? As Esterhuizen had few opportunities (two) in the Aussie test, so Pollard also he’d few opportunities in the NZ test

          I don’t support the Stormers- change feet!

          Johan, before leaping in to attack, perhaps give things a bit of of thought. You argue that Elton did really well because we “scored five tries” in that game, then you totally contradict yourself by telling us that the backline is useless. Your a little confused!

          • Johan

            Barry, do you understand stand basic math?

            “Elton has the worst miss tackle rate for two years running in the entire Super Rugby competition. You cannot tap dance around that fact!”
            Elton in tackling at 71%
            Mo’unga is tackling at 68%

            68% is less than 71%, so you are completely wrong about “Elton has the worst miss tackle rate…” -blah blah blah
            (And if you were going on pure numbers, Cusack missed 44, so you are still

            No need for a tap dance, basic math suffice

            If you are 10, and you made 32 passes, where was your inside center? You can’t skip him every pass, for 30 passes…
            Have a look at the game again, do you see that many skip passed being thrown?
            Perhaps Esterhuizen should have been in the backline in his place…

            “you totally contradict yourself by telling us that the backline is useless”
            Ah, but that is a comment on the NZ game, as you should have understood, do I need to spell out everything for you?

        • Herman

          Good response Johan. See my response to Stifler. By the way I think Barry is a Sharkette supporter. Cheers.

  • Nick

    Agree much of our super rugby back play was dire. How would you do it differently at this stage?

    • Herman

      Too late now Nick. Ackers should have been Bok coach back in 2016 then we could probably have been actually beating these AB’s on a regular basis. Last four tests played Boks 106 points, AB’s 107 points. AB’s win series with two wins, one loss and one draw. Cheers.

      • Dean Bright

        Bending statistics to suit your opinion. Under Rassie it’s 1 win, 1 draw and 1 loss. The points tally is exactly equal. Lol what next. Con artist.

  • Chris

    Funny how the same commentators on this forum calls for a player (Mapimpi/Am) to be dropped after only 5 or so international games and then turns around in another article to complain about continuity on our selections.
    These guys take a dozen or so games to get into international rugby. They have to be given a chance to get used to the pressure etc.

    • Chris Mouton

      Yeah, exactly. Have a look at this video from Squidge Rugby where he explains the tactics used by the Boks vs the ABs in the most recent game.

      There you can truly see that it’s the defensive system of the Boks that’s very high risk/reward that causes Mapimpi to shoot “out of position”. To throw him under the bus for following the defensive system is a bit short-sighted. It was also interesting to see the attacking shape and strategy of the Boks that led to Jantjies’ try. I have a lot more insight now.

  • Nick

    Very happy with ras hermie. Akkers is a great coach too. Move on, knowing south African coaching depth is good.

  • Piet

    My rating of our players and depth:

    Props: Rating – Great; Depth – Great
    Hookers: Rating – Great; Depth – Medium
    Locks: Rating – Great; Depth – Great
    Flanks: Rating – Great; Depth – Great
    8th Man: Rating – Great; Depth – Medium
    Scrumhalf: Rating – Great; Depth – Great
    Flyhalf: Rating – Good; Depth – Medium to Poor
    Centres: Rating – Poor; Depth – Poor
    Wings: Rating – Good; Depth – Good
    Full Back: Rating – Good; Depth – Medium

    The short and the long is that we have a real problem when it comes to our backs. Especially 12 and 13 – we just don’t have any international standard center at the moment. I am very glad that the scrumhalf position is now fixed, a year ago I was very worried. What is sad that 10 to 15 years ago we had probably 6 international centers to choose from, now this is our problem area.

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