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Top of the Boks: South Africa's three best players in 2021

By Warren Fortune
South Africa's Malcolm Marx (L) and South Africa's inside centre Damian de Allende celebrate after victory in the third rugby union Test match between South Africa and the British and Irish Lions at The Cape Town Stadium in Cape Town on August 7, 2021. (Photo by RODGER BOSCH / AFP) (Photo by RODGER BOSCH/AFP via Getty Images)

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It’s that time of the year again when we start to reflect on the past year. After not playing a single Test in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Springboks were back in full force this year and they had to hit the ground running – with British and Irish Lions being a monstrous challenge first up.

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After a warm-up against Georgia, the Springboks recorded a 2-1 series victory. It can be viewed as 3-1 if you consider the SA ‘A’ team’s win over the B&I Lions – a game many billed as an unofficial fourth Test.

In the Rugby Championship, the Boks only won three of their six Tests.

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However, they played most of the tournament in Australia and Bok fans will tell you their dramatic 31-29 win over the All Blacks in the final game proves they were the best team all along.

Jacques Nienaber’s side was an almost unstoppable force with a massive pack during the end-of-year series.

They recorded wins against Wales and Scotland, before they were edged in the closing minutes against England in that final game.

But we are not here to discuss overall performances.

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We are going to look at a few standout individuals in 2021.

Below are three players who were a cut above the rest with their performances this year:

EBEN ETZEBETH
The Springboks have become unaccustomed to injustices and one of the biggest of them all was Etzebeth not being nominated for World Rugby’s Player of the Year.

He was an enforcer who delivered aggression and physicality. He was someone the Boks relied on to instil fear into their opponents.

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Etzebeth’s work rate in Tests this year almost went unrivalled and it was in all facets of the game where he made his presence felt.

He terrorized opponents in the line-outs with his competing and stealing and he was a menace at the rucks as well.

More often than not he was the one pressurising the opponents’ scrumhalves around the rucks with his big frame.

The 30-year-old was the go-to man when it came to getting over the gainline. His performance in the win over Scotland is a testament to this as he had more carries than anyone on the field.

He followed that up with another strong performance against England a week later.

His aggression on defence was another feature of his game that stood out. It seemed there were a few players on the opposing team left dazed and confused when he bashed into them.

He was certainly a key player in many of South Africa’s wins this year.

SIYA KOLISI
It’s probably a bit of a cliche, but he led by example this year.

In previous years, Kolisi was often criticised for disappearing in games or not getting into the thick of things when it mattered.

However, the same could not be said about his performances this year.

It was his play with the ball in hand that caught the eye.

He was dynamic. Like Etzebeth, he was a hard man to bring down when he ran into opponents, but he also used his vision to probe gaps, which was devastating for opponents due to his size and speed.

His passing and offloading abilities in the tackle was also on full display this season.

Like many of the players in the Bok squad, Kolisi was highly physical in the rucks and on a few occasions, he used his sheer power to wrestle possession back for his team.

Dominance in the tackle was another key feature of his performances. Sometimes on his own or with the help of others, he drove opponents back and was he was often back on his feet quickly to make a contribution in the next phase.

It’s all about commitment and consistency on the international stage and Kolisi showed plenty of it.

DAMIAN DE ALLENDE
It’s probably safe to say he is the best No.12 in the world.

The Springboks love a big bruiser in the midfield and De Allende fits that mould.

If it’s not one of the heavies in the pack getting over the gainline, then it’s the former Stormers centre fulfilling that role and he does it well.

He has phenomenal leg strength, which helps help drive through a tackle and that is complemented by his raw upper body strength.

One advantage of having such a strong presence in the backline is the ability to draw defenders, which leaves some space for wings on the wider channels.

An example of this was De Allende’s neat pass to Makazole Mapimpi for a try in the win over Scotland.

That raw power also allows De Allende to be an asset at ruck time, where he has won many turnovers for his team.

He is an important cog in a Springbok machine that relies on physical dominance to subdue opponents.

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