Test Match Review

South Africa vs Wales

2nd June, 2018

Final Score: Wales 22 – South Africa 20.


 Referee: Matthew Carley (England)
Assistant referees: Alexandre Ruiz (France), Frank Murphy (Ireland)
TMO: David Grashoff (England)

While having a cup of coffee with my brother yesterday afternoon, we were discussing the merits and demerits of the “Test” match to be played between South Africa and Wales. To start with, we wondered why the game was being afforded “Test Match” status when it clearly did not meet the criteria of the best of two nations facing each other.

To my mind, a “Test Match” is supposed to be the complete examination of the best that two competing countries can offer. It is the ultimate measure of a nation’s depth of playing resources, playing ability, endurance, and mental and physical strength.

But that is just my opinion – What do others think?

Cricket tightly controls the application of Test Match status to games. Test matches are played between national representative teams with “Test Status”, as determined and conferred by the International Cricket Council (ICC).

Rugby is less rigid, and a definition of what is a “Test” match is not defined by World Rugby. They rather define an “international match” as “a Match played between National Representative Teams selected by Unions”.

In rugby union test match status and caps may be awarded by either team’s governing body regardless of the decision of their opponents. This goes back in rugby history to 1920 when the New South Wales Waratahs played a game against the All Blacks. The Australian Rugby Union decided to call the game a “Test Match” and awarded Test caps to the Waratah players. The All Blacks, in contrast, have not given that game the same status.

The first recorded use of the word in relation to sport occurs in 1861 when it was used by journalists, to designate the most important games played as part of a cricket tour by an unofficial English team to Australia, and it is thought to arise from the idea that the matches were a “test of strength and competency” between the sides involved. When official and fully representative Australian and English cricket and rugby teams began touring each other’s countries a decade or so later the term gradually began to be applied by journalists exclusively to the international fixtures on each tour, though this was not widespread until well into the 1880s.

So, the awarding of Test Match status to a rugby match and Test caps to the participants is thus purely an internal decision taken by each national governing body, regardless of what their opponents on the day might think of the game.

Which neatly brings us to the “Test Match” played between South Africa and Wales, in Washington DC’s RFK Memorial Stadium on the 2nd of June 2018.

The two teams that took to the field of play were clearly not the best that either country could field. South Africa’s Rassie Erasmus had kept most of his first-choice players back in South Africa, and selected a team with 7 debutants in the starting XV out of a total of 13 that would eventually take the field on the day. Wales had “rested” 10 of their 12 British & Irish Lions for this game, with a view to keeping their player resources fresh for the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

Neither country could thus be said to be offering up a team that would provide the complete examination of the best that the two competing countries could offer. The game was thus not the ultimate measure of a nation’s depth of playing resources, playing ability, endurance, and mental and physical strength.

But it was a test of some of the second stringers that each country could field.

For the record:

Wales secured a 22-20 victory over South Africa in their international game played at Robert F Kennedy Stadium in Washington on Saturday.

Hallam Amos, Tomos Williams and Ryan Elias crossed for the Welsh, with the latter’s 75th minute crossing proving the match-winning score.

For South Africa their tries were scored by wingers Travis Ismaiel and Makazole Mapimpi.

This was a match barely anyone in the American capital was aware of. The Washington Post failed to carry a single word about the game, and it was left to expatriates from both countries to make up the bulk of the audience.  Critics had slammed the encounter as a money-spinning PR stunt which devalued international rugby.

The rugby that was on show was of such a poor quality that it would certainly not attract new converts to the game amongst Americans.

It was a PR stunt that failed to deliver.

About the Game:

Whatever the criticism of the event, it did serve some purpose for both teams. The exposure will do the younger players on both sides the world of good in their career development.

Nerves, coupled to tricky conditions contributed to what was a woeful first 40 minutes of rugby.

The Welsh managed to score two tries in a dour first half, both tries coming shortly after the Springboks had launched inaccurate kicks that gave Wales the possession, the opportunity, and the space to kick the ball back into the South African half and put pressure back on the Springboks.

The first resulted in Curwin Bosch getting isolated as two Bok defensive supporters hung off him instead of getting in over the ball. Five Welshmen got into the area and overwhelmed Bosch.

The second Welsh try came in almost identical manner when Jesse Kriel failed to pick-up a ball at the base of a ruck that formed on a kick receipt. His lack of control allowed the Welsh 8, Moriarty, to pick the ball and play on.

Defensive errors by the Boks, tries by the Welsh.

During the first half the abiding impression was one of confusion, handling errors, silly game plans, and a total lack of execution by both sides, but with the Springboks appearing worse that their opponents, seeming totally unprepared and overwhelmed by the occasion.

The Springbok scrumhalf, Ivan van Zyl marked his debut by kicking away almost every ball his forwards secured. It was so slow that it could not even be called pedestrian; he telegraphed his intention to kick with such deliberation that the entire Welsh team had the time to spread out in all the likely areas where the ball would come down to earth; and it was so inaccurate that the designated kick-chasers had no idea where they should go to try and catch the ball.

There was a certain sense of déjà vu to his performance, it reminded one and all of Francois Hougaard and his box-kicking endeavours while wearing the same No 9 jersey.

The truly mind-boggling thing about it all is that the Springbok team leaders and the coaching staff did absolutely nothing to make him change the game.

No instructions were sent out to Van Zyl, and they did have the services of the nippy Embrose Papier waiting on the bench, but did not deploy him as scrumhalf. When he entered the fray, he was sent out onto the wing!

When the ball went to the Springbok flyhalf, Elton Jantjies, he too kicked the ball, with the familiar inaccuracy which we have come to expect from him.

If you are going to play the conservative “Jakeball” high-kick-and-chase game, you need to do it with pinpoint accuracy and clinically efficient chasing. This was not part of the Springbok game-plan. They simply hoofed it upfield and prayed.

Between them, Van Zyl and Jantjies launched no less than 19 kicks, with Curwin Bosch adding 5 high-ones from the back. The stats make more dire reading when you consider that Van Zyl and Jantjies together also only passed the ball 19 times during the game!

Van Zyl’s tally is identical, 9 kicks, and 9 passes! He is a scrumhalf, for goodness sake. His primary job is to pass the ball!

South Africa carried the ball 96 times, making 508 meters with the ball in hand. Wales carried the ball 67 times and only made 257 meters with the ball in hand.

The match statistics also tell us that South Africa passed the ball 128 times, with 119 passes going to hand, yet their flyhalf, Elton Jantjies only passed the ball 10 times in the whole game! (The Welsh passed the ball 83 times, with just 72 going to hand.)

The scrums were an absolute nightmare as referee Matthew Carley chose to intervene from the very first such set-piece. He was overly-officious and markedly unable to understand the dynamics of the scrum on a wet, slippery surface. Under his guidance the scrums took so long to set that it seemed that time had stopped, and we were living in some weird rugby limbo.

When the scrums did get going, South Africa had a slight edge, but it was neutered by Carley’s intervention and sometimes strange decisions.

Scrum stats tell us that the Springboks had a 100% scrum success rate, although they were penalised once in the set-piece. Wales had a success rate of just 88% and conceded 2 scrum penalties.

One comment about the referee deserves mention. Matthew Carley made absolutely no effort to police the offside line at the rucks and mauls and not a single penalty was given for offside in these phases of play, despite some seriously visible creeping by both teams.

The second 40 minute period served up much the same stuff as we saw in the first half. There was still way too much inaccurate kicking, although the South Africans started to carry the ball at times. On numerous occasions they looked good with the ball in hand, only to fluff the whole thing with poor handling, poor passing, and a lack of accuracy down on the deck.

The Springboks did dominate the territorial stakes and possession for most of the second half, but inaccuracy with the ball in hand  and some abysmal passing kept robbing them of scoring opportunities. Their defensive mistakes and poor tackling will require some serious work by the coaches. South Africa made just 79 tackles, yet they missed 10, and that is not a good ratio in a game such as this.

And then there was the much awaited debut of the third Du Preez brother. It is a debut that he will never forget, but for all the wrong reasons!

Robert du Preez went onto the field ,and immediately went to hero status as he kicked what looked like a match-winning penalty to put South Africa 20-17 up.

He then promptly fell all the way from hero to zero as he fluffed a clearance kick for Wales scrumhalf Tomos Williams to charge down. The Springboks scrambled to save the situation, tied the ball up, and Du Preez had the opportunity to clear again. Once again he was charged down by the same Tomos Williams. This time the ball bobbled around in the Springbok in-goal and Ryan Elias pounced.

I guess the best that can be said about this game is that a team that has never played together, had just two practices together under a brand new coach, and will never play together again, lost a “Test” against Wales. The Welsh might have won, but they will be troubled by their own lack of performance. They have all practiced together in the Wales squad before, many have played together, and Warren Gatland has coached the Welsh team through 118 Test matches!

I trust that the Bok coaching team will have learned something from the game, I do not believe the American spectators learned anything whatsoever about rugby.

The whole game was an exercise in futility for all concerned.

Individual Player Assessments:

 15 Curwin Bosch, 3/10.

Mostly invisible, doing very little to suggest that he should be the first or second choice fullback in the upcoming series against England, or even in the overall squad. His kicking was inaccurate to start with, although he seemed to find his range later in the game. Defensively he was caught out of position too many times, while he did nothing with the ball in hand.

14 Travis Ismaiel, 4/10.

A forgettable afternoon due to unforced errors at crucial moments. Did some good things, especially when attempting to chase unpredictable kicks by his halfbacks, made a couple of good tackles, scored an easy intercept try. Drifted in off his defence channel too often for comfort, but scrambled back well enough. Very nearly got in with a corner dash, but was denied by superb defence. Just too many unforced errors.

13 Jesse Kriel, 4/10

Lots of endeavour with the ball in hand, but mostly going nowhere. Too many lateral runs as he tried to find a gap that was not there. Limited opportunities as the ball never reached him in an orthodox line movement. Cleaned out well over the ball. Really silly mistake at a ruck also led to a Welsh try.

12 Andre Esterhuizen, 6/10.

Probably the best Bok back on the day. Put in some really solid tackles, made some good meters with the ball in hand, although his distribution of the ball after hitting space is still a problem. A promising debut, let down by some poor service by his flyhalf. Involved in both Bok tries.

11 Makazole Mapimpi, 6/10

A solid debut by the flyer. Chased the ball tirelessly, sometimes a bit too quick and overran the point of contact. Went looking for work. After the woes of his recent Springbok predecessors, he demonstrated guts under the high ball.  A good finish for his try.

10 Elton Jantjies, 3/10

Once again demonstrated his inability to lead and control the back division. At 28 years old, with 100 Super Rugby caps and playing in his 24th Test one expects leadership and game management from a player with his seniority and experience, but there was none of that.

His kicking out-of-hand was woeful at times, erratic and inaccurate most of the time. His distribution of the ball was back to his old turn-towards-the-midfield-and-shovel-it stuff which becomes the norm when he is feeling pressure. Missed a couple of tackles, one of which led to a try. Did make one very good take of a high-kick.  Oh, and his place-kicking was sound, but that is simply not enough from a man who is expected to control a game.

9 Ivan van Zyl, 2/10

I guess he was playing under instruction with his endless box-kicking? But the slowness of it all robbed the tactic of any chance of success, even if it had been accurate, which it was not. His kicking was ponderously slow and telegraphed, robbing the game of any tempo or excitement. His passes from the base were equally slow and ponderous. The No 9 position is a problem for South Africa and Ivan van Zyl is not the solution!

8 Dan du Preez, 5/10

I use the words robust and pointless together when I describe Dan du Preez’s afternoon. He demonstrated plenty of physicality in contact, but little of the thinking clever play needed from an international No 8. There are no deft touches and clever supporting lines. There seems to be no anticipation or reading of the game. His handling was poor, and his penchant for “no-look” offloads and passes robbed the Springboks of two great scoring opportunities.

7 Oupa Mohoje, 4/10

Ineffectual, often seeming to play away from his support. Did nothing seriously wrong, nor anything really good either. It was a kinda beige performance by a man with the physical attributes but not the presence. A couple of good tackles, a couple of carries. At least he managed to keep most of his tackles down below head-height for a change.

6 Kwagga Smith, 3/10

We expected so much more from the Sevens Bok! He was supposed to bring pace, mongrel, and presence at the breakdown. He is an opensider and should play the opensider role. Quite simply, he did nothing of the sort. Some tackles, although he slipped off a couple. Ball carrying was less than impressive as he was simply bossed by his opponents.

5 Pieter-Steph du Toit (c), 6/10

Seemed a bit overwhelmed by the captaincy role. His inexperience in this capacity was evident as he was not a terribly assertive voice when talking to the referee or to his team in the huddle. His game was the usual mix of robust involvement and superb support lines, good in the lineouts, good on defence.

4 Jason Jenkins, 6/10

One of the rookies who can be proud of his debut. Provided a powerful physical presence in the loose, with some hard tackles, a couple of good carries and good cleaning out. Not sure why he was subbed, though he might have been tiring a bit.

3 Wilco Louw, 5/10

Seemed a little out of sorts, not quite at the standard we have come to expect from him. Generally strong in the scrums, although he was pinged for a knee going down at scrum. His lineout support was good, his driving in the mauls was fair, and his carrying was a bit subdued.

2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 5/10

I am not a Chiliboy fan as I consider him a lazy rugby player who hangs around on the fringes without doing anything. He was much better in this game. Scrummed with energy, hooked well, and his lineouts were better than usual. Robust defence and in the loose. One superb tackle when tracking back.

1 Ox Nche 4/10

I am unconvinced. He did nothing wrong, although he seemed to creak a tiny bit in the scrums. But there was none of his robust carrying and cleaning out. Seemed overwhelmed by the occasion. The Bok scrum simply stepped up six gears when he was replaced by Kitshoff.


16 Akker van der Merwe, 5/10

Brought his characteristic robustness and physicality when he arrived on the field. Sometimes a little careless in the carry as he turned away from his support, he brought a directness to the Bok drives that had been missing. Missed a critical tackle, but made several others. A satisfactory debut.

17 Steven Kitshoff, 7/10

He brings a whole new dimension to the scrum when he arrives. The moment he took over the loosehead berth, Wales were in trouble in the set-piece. Strong support in the lineouts and drives. Robust and direct in the carry, his defence was also massively physical.

18 Thomas du Toit, 5/10

A satisfactory debut for the loosehead turned tighthead. Brought some solidity to the scrum, although the Welsh scrum had been subdued by then, and made some important hits and cleans.

19 Marvin Orie, 4/10

Just seems too light and ineffectual for an international lock. Carried the ball well, but gets knocked over too easily. He chased the ball, but does very little when he gets to the ball.

20 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 4/10

Plenty of endeavour, but all a little too slow. Just seemed to be a critical half-a-meter too slow at the breakdowns and in the tackles. When he made contact, it was solid enough, but without the impact or sparkle one would expect. Did nothing wrong.

21 Embrose Papier, 4/10

Cannot really be measured as he was not deployed as a scrumhalf. Made one exciting dart with the ball in hand.

22 Robert du Preez, 1/10

Oh Woe! Probably the worst debut in the history of Springbok rugby! Cost the Boks the game with two carthorse clearance kicks that were charged down. Simply did not step up the pace to Test Match level in his brief ten minutes. Did not learn from the first charge down, and allowed the same player to do it again! Gets his 1/10 for converting a penalty from straight in front. He missed one of those last week for the Sharks!

23 Warrick Gelant 5/10

Simply better than the man he replaced. More physical, more enterprise, more solid on defence, safer under the high ball, and more accurate with his kicks. Not great, but better than Bosch.


The scorers:

For Wales:
Tries: Amos, Williams, Elias
Cons: Anscombe 2
Pen: Anscombe
Yellow Card: Watkin

For South Africa:
Tries: Ismaiel, Mapimpi
Cons: Jantjies 2
Pens: Jantjies, Du Preez

The Teams:

Wales: 15 Hallam Amos, 14 Tom Prydie, 13 George North, 12 Owen Watkin, 11 Steff Evans, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Tomos Williams, 8 Ross Moriarty, 7 Ellis Jenkins (c), 6 Seb Davies, 5 Cory Hill, 4 Bradley Davies, 3 Dillon Lewis, 2 Elliot Dee, 1 Nicky Smith
Replacements: 16 Ryan Elias, 17 Wyn Jones, 18 Rhodri Jones, 19 Adam Beard, 20 Aaron Wainwright, 21 Aled Davies, 22 Rhys Patchell, 23 Hadleigh Parkes

South Africa: 15 Curwin Bosch, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ivan van Zyl, 8 Dan du Preez, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Kwagga Smith, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit (c), 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Ox Nche
Replacements: 16 Akker van der Merwe, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Thomas du Toit, 19 Marvin Orie, 20 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Robert du Preez, 23 Warrick Gelant




  1. By and large I agree with your sentiments. The game did however give us (and the coaching squad) a pretty good idea of who should NOT be in next week’s squad

    Agree about man of the match. The 12 looked good in virtually all aspects.

    If the big redhead does not run on next week it will be to do with something other than his playing abilities – my joint man of the match

    I am no Ralepella fan, but he was OK.

    du Toit was pretty solid but I guess he won’t skipper too often in the future! Our starting loose trio were pretty awful and none will threaten the more established guys. 9 and 10 were bloody horrible on the night. 13 was so so, but did not (as I had hoped) make a big claim by having a really good performance. Having said that, as you mention, there was not much ball coming from the half-backs! Mapimpi is a real candidate though. I would give Gelant a point more than you gave him predominantly on his performance under the high ball, somewhere the boks have been pretty shitty in recent times!

    I thought that the “lightweight” lock was a little better than your comments reflect. His couple of line-out steals could have been priceless.