Bok pack sets up great win
Heyneke Meyer has inspired some great forward performances over the years and the Springbok pack’s command role in the 22-17 win over England in the first test at Kings Park should be seen as an ominous warning for future opponents.
The new coach headed back to the box after halftime wearing the look of someone who had just read the riot act to his team as he hurried through the press area to his seat.
And if that is what he did, it worked, with the players – particularly the big men at forward – returning to the field with an agitated look that matched that of their coach.
With Willem Alberts in the vanguard and the scrum growing more dominant as the game progressed, the Boks produced the power performance in the third quarter that effectively ended what had looked like being a contest when the two sides were locked together at 6-all after a turgid first half.
Whereas in the opening 40 minutes the ball had come back too slowly and the service of Francois Hougaard had been way too pedestrian, in the second there was the urgency you would expect from a first test under a new coach and particularly in a game against England.
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Ruan Pienaar’s arrival on the field later on definitely helped, and perhaps Hougaard should look forward to playing as a wing replacement in future matches in this series.
But the Blue Bull No 9 was still on the park when the hosts turned the tide so emphatically in their favour, with the big men taking complete control as the old tried-and-trusted strangulation technique of all the great Bok teams took hold.
The plan was clear: force England to play rugby in their own half, and that was where the Boks camped for most of the game after halftime.
The teams were deadlocked when they came back from the break, and although the Boks looked like they were gaining the ascendancy in the arm-wrestle, it was still anybody’s game.
But you got the feeling that England would struggle if they were forced to play catch-up and that was what they were forced to do when the Boks finally found their fluency to carry a sustained attack through to a try.
It was started when Jean de Villiers found space down the left flank from just inside his own half to set up the attack.
The ball was played to the right, prop Jannie du Plessis took a pass from Marcell Coetzee to make massive strides through the middle before being caught up just short.
Hougaard got the ball quickly from the recycle and was only just denied in the dive, but the Boks patiently retained possession and eventually Morne Steyn had the minimal amount of space he needed to go over for the try.
Steyn may have scored the try but it wasn’t his best day with the boot, and he was unable to convert either of the two Bok tries.
He also missed a kickable penalty on the stroke of halftime. So the Boks could have been out of sight when they scored their second try on the hour mark.
This one was set up by a good run from Bryan Habana, who for much of the game was the best player on the field and is now certainly back to his sharpest and most dangerous form.
There was also some great work from Pienaar, who by then was on the field, and precise passing to the right created the opportunity for skipper De Villiers to go over for his 20th try in the green and gold.
England did fight back briefly with two penalties from Owen Farrell within the space of just a few minutes, and suddenly the finger-gnawing by nervous Bok fans that had looked like being avoided was happening.
The gap was just four points going into the last 10 minutes. But up stepped Steyn with two penalties to make the game safe, and although they would be unhappy at conceding the late try to wing Ben Foden that brought some respectability to the England defeat, it was a good start to the international season.
The forwards were magnificent in the second half. Alberts was in inspired form and was responsible for so much of the go-forward that the Boks enjoyed as he bashed himself across the gainline.
The other two loose-forwards weren’t far behind either, with Marcel Coetzee enjoying an impressive debut and Pierre Spies playing one of his better games in a while.
The scrum devastated England later in the game, particularly when the bench started to play a big part in proceedings as the introduction of Coenie Oosthuizen and Adriaan Strauss set the South Africans up for complete domination.
If the Boks have anything to be concerned about it is perhaps that they didn’t quite take all their scoring opportunities in that second half when they were so comprehensively on top.
And the first half was everything that was predicted beforehand, with the game being uninspiring and pedestrian from an aesthetic viewpoint.
Zane Kirchner missed a crucial tackle and the introduction of Patrick Lambie after halftime had an impact on the game, while the bankruptcy of the Bok attacking game when Habana was off the field having a cut attended to, showed just how valuable the Stormers left wing is to that aspect of their play.
Habana was all over the place in the first half, with his chasing of the kicks being on the money, and he also surprised England with an impressive run out of his own half early in the game.
In the first half the Boks were turned over on the ground a few times too often for comfort, and while the back row as a whole played well once the Boks engaged forward gear, you sense the debate over the value of the absent Heinrich Brussow as a fetcher flank will be continued.
Not that it should be allowed to sour what was ultimately a good win after the Boks predictably took some time in the first half to find their fluency.
Unless England find a way to front up to the Springbok scrum, they could be in trouble when the series goes to altitude next weekend.
England weren’t helped by the loss of Brad Barritt in the second half but the reality is that they lost the game at forward long before then. They had no territory or possession from which to strike in the second half, and that effectively decided the game in South Africa’s favour.
South Africa – Tries: Morne Steyn, Jean de Villiers. Penalties: Steyn (4).
England – Try: Ben Foden. Penalties: Owen Farrell (4).