Boks continue dominance of England
The Springbok dominance of England dating back to before the last World Cup was stretched to seven matches as Victor Matfield’s men completed a face-saving 21-11 win at Twickenham on Saturday.
The match was played in bitterly cold weather and for long periods it was as if neither team really wanted to be out there as they produced an utterly forgettable match strewn with errors from both sides.
However, there was no denying the Boks were the significantly better team, with their defensive effort outranking that of England by some distance, although it was the South African pack that paved the way for this win with a monumental performance against a highly rated pack.
The first phases that were so poor the previous week against Scotland were spot on this time, and Matfield, forwards coach Gary Gold and scrum coach Os du Randt should take a bow for the way that their sphere of expertise shut England out of the game.
Bismarck du Plessis, one of the stars of the tour, was a deserved recipient of the official man of the match award, but big Juan Smith would not have been far behind, while Matfield was back to his outstanding best in the lineouts even though he played much of the match with a broken rib.
The Boks scored two tries to one, the second from Lwazi Mvovo 10 minutes from time effectively sewing up the victory for his team as well as summing up how abject England were on the afternoon. Mvovo looked well covered by several defenders when he received the ball out on the left just outside the England 22, but somehow he wriggled through to go through untouched.
That put the Boks into a 21-6 lead and they were out of sight, with a late England try from fullback Ben Foden, who swooped on a loose ball to break away and run half the length of the field, bringing only a small bit of consolation for England in terms of the scoreboard, but no more than that.
The Boks dominated possession in the first half, and if England are going to mount a realistic challenge for next year’s World Cup, they are going to have to understand that even when you take on a running approach, the kicking game still remains important.
England were outkicked in this game as much as they were fronted in the scrums, had their lineouts disrupted on occasion and were outmuscled at the collisions. England don’t have enough good field kickers, and their inability, or simple refusal, to mix up their play is a limitation against a good defensive team like the Springboks were in this match.
FULL MARKS TO BOKS
Full marks to the Boks for the work they did during a difficult build-up week following the lamentable performance against Scotland, for this was a day where they turned around several areas of weakness.
Yet it was a strange game, for England were so abysmal, particularly in a first half where they were dominated for possession and then seemed completely incapable of holding onto the scraps that did come their way. Clearly the hype about England after their good performance against Australia a few weeks ago was premature.
That being so, the Boks should have been a little alarmed that they went into the break level at 6-all. The Boks had wasted several great scoring chances during a long period where they camped on the England line, with England scrumhalf Ben Youngs saving an almost certain try by pouncing in front of Matfield’s nose to as the Bok captain was reaching out to dot down.
There was also a missed Morne Steyn penalty that he would normally slot with ease, a rushed tap penalty in a kickable position that came to nothing, and generally the Springbok option-taking on attack was poor.
England had drawn first blood with a penalty from Toby Flood in the fifth minute to make it 3-0, Steyn responding with a kick from way out on the right four minutes later as the Boks forced a penalty at the third scrum of the match. The two earlier scrums had resulted in Bok penalties on a day when the England scrum always looked unsettled against the fired-up South African unit.
England took the lead again a few minutes after that and held onto their three-point advantage for the bulk of the half as the Boks failed to capitalise on the long periods where they exerted pressure. Even when Steyn eventually equalised not long before halftime, it looked like England were rolling with the punches.
But when Steyn kicked a penalty two minutes after the restart, it was to take the lead for the first time in the match and a lead that was never challenged again. England’s best period of attack came soon after that, and the Boks did well to repel it.
And then came a transferal of the pressure, with the Boks cranking it up during a sustained period of attacking which eventually saw big Bok replacement flank Williem Alberts barrel over in the corner.
It was Alberts’s third try of a tour in which he has only played three halves, and he can return to South Africa feeling that he was one of the successes of the tour.
It was the most convincing Springbok performance against a top team since they hammered France in June, and if it did nothing else, it confirmed that the Boks can still rely on that old “gees” (spirit) that has so often seen them rebound from defeat in the past. The single-minded focus that they adopted during the week was carried into the game, and England were no match for them on the day.
The win means the Boks break even for the tour in that although they suffered the humiliation of losing to Scotland, they did at least win the two big games of the tour against Ireland and England. Whether that is enough to keep the vultures at bay after what has gone before during an horrific year for the Springbok remains to be seen, but at least they finished it on a winning note against the team they most love to beat.
Springboks 21 – Tries: Willem Alberts and Lwazi Mvovo; Conversion: Morne Steyn; Penalties: Morne Steyn 3.
England 11 – Try: Ben Foden; Penalties: Toby Flood 2.