Meyer saw glimpses of Bok capabilities
He wasn’t happy with the way his team in the second half gave England the keys to the fortress that had been so firmly locked in the first, but Heyneke Meyer saw enough reason to be enthused about the Springbok performance in their 36-27 win in the second test at Coca-Cola Park.
England were behind 22-3 after 20 minutes and 28-10 six minutes into the second half, so the eventual margin of victory wasn’t nearly as emphatic as it looked like being early in the piece.
In the opening quarter a repeat of the 2008 53-8 massacre of Australia looked a distinct possibility. But in the last hour of the game England were able to score three tries to one to take a lot of the gloss off the win.
“We lost our way a bit in the second half because our first-phase play wasn’t good enough and we made mistakes that allowed England back into the game, but we played really great rugby in the first half,” said Meyer.
“In that period we showed glimpses of what we are capable of and where we want to go as a team. That is the type of rugby I am looking for the team to play. Injuries played a part in the second half, but I don’t want to make excuses. We made a few unnecessary mistakes from set phase, but credit to England for the way they played in the second half.”
The injured players included Patrick Lambie (ankle), Willem Alberts (swollen knee) and Juandre Kruger (neck), all of them coming off to force substantial reshuffles to the Bok combinations.
When Lambie left the field it meant Frans Steyn moved to fullback and Wynand Olivier came on at inside centre, while Kruger, whose injury is potentially the most serious, left a massive gap at lock.
With Victor Matfield retired and Andries Bekker still out for a few more weeks, Meyer is going to have a problem replacing Kruger if the worst fears are confirmed and he is ruled out of the final test in Port Elizabeth next Saturday.
Fortunately though, the series is in the bag for the Boks, with the winning sequence against what was a nemesis team in the early parts of the last decade, now extending to nine games.
The Boks were just hanging in for most of the second half, with England seeming to pick up what looked like being winning momentum, only for the Boks to strike and put the game out of their reach through a brilliant try started and then rounded off by wing JP Pietersen with seven minutes to go.
“Injuries are part of rugby so I don’t want to complain about it, but the one England try was scored when Juandre was down, and the other one was the result of an overthrow at a lineout. England worked hard to come back at us but some of the points we gave away were unnecessary,” said the coach.
“Lambie went off injured and it was the second time in the space of a week that we have lost a fullback. Frans Steyn can play fullback but he hasn’t done so for a while and it required a bit of an adjustment. But we will take the win.
"I was very happy with the first half, we just lost our momentum. Towards the end we had several players off and mostly young guys on the field, so Jean (de Villiers) did well to keep the players together and calm.
“The young players would have learned a lot from being in that tight situation towards the end and they did well to produce that final try that nailed down the win. It will hold us in good stead for the future.”
Meyer added that with a new coach it would be unreasonable to expect the team to produce perfect rugby over a full 80 minutes and that there would always be teething problems. He said he would select his team for the next dead-rubber match at Nelson Mandela Stadium with The Castle Rugby Championship in mind.
“Some of the guys are tired and I do want to try a few things but at the same time I don’t want to lose continuity. A lot will depend on the injuries and who is available, but The Castle Championship is just around the corner and I want us to go into that tournament with continuity and momentum.”
Skipper De Villiers said that the team had felt good when they led so comfortably at halftime but praised England for not giving up.
“They never gave up and we did not help the situation by giving them crucial points at crucial times,” he said.
De Villiers praised the contribution of Pietersen, but admitted that he had spoken to the wing about his elaborate dive in celebration as he scored his match-clinching try.
“I have always rated JP, he is a great allround player. The first thing I did was speak to him afterwards about the jump behind the line. My heart was in my throat when he did that. But he had a fantastic game and his work-rate was unbelievable. He made a couple of line breaks and defensively he was very sound.”
England coach Stuart Lancaster said his team were frustrated at coming so near and yet so far in their fightback and spoke about the narrow margin between success and failure, but paid tribute to the Boks for their win.
“I think Heyneke Meyer is putting together a quite formidable team,” said Lancaster.