Top Bok in the Rugby Champs goes to…

The All Out Rugby team nominates two candidates for Best Springbok after South Africa’s rollercoaster ride in the Rugby Championship ended with a gut-wrenching loss at Newlands.

Tank Lanning – Eben Etzebeth
Despite how poorly the bench was used by coach Allister Coetzee in this year’s Rugby Champs, I thought both Jean-Luc du Preez and Steven Kitshoff were monumental off the wood. The latter, now palpably better than regular starter Beast Mtawarira, is a true contender for my Bok player of the tournament. His goosebumps-inducing send-off at Newlands was more than deserved.

But I think it fairer that a player in the run-on XV take this gong, and as such, found myself deciding between three contenders: Siya Kolisi, Malcolm Marx and Eben Etzebeth, all three not only stand out players for the Boks, but game changers.

With 10 turnovers won, Marx the ball limpet, tops the comp, but misses out due to a high handling error and missed-tackle rate, to go with an iffy lineout feed at times. Kolisi tops the comp with a monstrous 17 dominant tackles, out of a total of 49 tackles made. Sans a clearly-defined role in a changing loose trio – not his fault – the WP flank could perhaps carry more for the Boks.

Which leaves the skipper – who took heat for the 57 points the Boks took in Albany, but now, rightfully, must also take the kudos for the turnaround at Newlands. He certainly seems to “Have the shed” as they say in Kiwi parlance, and given that he is standing in for Warren Whiteley, that is impressive.

He does his primary job superbly (topping the stats in both lineouts won and lineouts stolen), but was also hugely impressive round the field – 59 carries (3 more than Marx), 7 offloads, 10 tackle breaks, 48 tackles – 5 dominant, while only giving away 2 penalties.

In Saturday’s blunt force trauma approach against the All Blacks, Etzebeth was the blunt force!

Zelím Nel – Jean-Luc du Preez
I should have said Malcolm Marx. I wanted to because the hooker is the primary reason the Boks lost 25-24 in Cape Town and not 38-17. But Marx missed multiple lineout throws in Albany and this is a question about the best player over the course of the Rugby Championship.

But how did I get to a guy who only saw 214 minutes of action off the bench? In my opinion, Du Preez should be the front-runner for SA Rugby’s MVP award this year because no other player upgrades the team like he does.

Throughout this season, Du Preez’s insertion into the contest has coincided with a notable momentum shift in the Boks’ favour.

That’s because the gain-line battle is rugby’s sandpit for big, young, invulnerable brutes like Du Preez. Just ask Eben Etzebeth and Siya Kolisi – two kids who smashed everyone to bits in their 2012 debut season.

Du Preez, 23, adds 1.93m and 110kg of pure force to a Bok pack that is tasked with supporting a featherweight backline and therefore cannot afford any passengers. He trotted onto Newlands at the end of the third quarter and, minutes later, capped off a try-scoring opportunity created by Handre Pollard and sustained by Marx.

In this year’s Rugby Championship, only 10 players scored more tries than him, only five made more offloads and he ranked sixth for tackle breaks. That’s not too bad for a loose forward who spent half of the competition on the bench.

Two ties with the Wallabies and a one-point loss against the All Blacks relegated the Boks to third place and a 14-point deficit on the champions. If Du Preez had started it’s reasonable to think that South Africa may have swept Australia and edged New Zealand, and that would have clinched the Rugby Championship.

You’ve read what they think, now let us know where you stand in The Big Debate!

- All Out Rugby Staff Writer