Pietersen powers Boks to series victory
Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer is a big believer that big players make their mark in big games, and nowhere was that more apparent than at Coca-Cola Park where JP Pietersen scored a magnificent and crucial try to give South Africa a 36-27 win in the second test.
The victory gives the Springboks an unassailable 2-0 lead in the three-match series, and equals England’s worst ever run against the Boks – with the tourists last tasting success 10 games ago.
But while the Boks were brutal in the first half, they were made to sweat for it in the second as England came back at them, with Pietersen’s moment of magic killing off any hopes of a come-from-behind victory.
To be honest, given the way the Boks dominated the opening 40 minutes, any thought of a second-half comeback would hardly be tolerated by the 60 000 plus crowd at the break, especially as the Boks looked so set to put up a big scoreline in the process.
But a combination of dogged English spirit, Bok injuries, and a few soft tries swung the momentum back towards the English as they fought to within four points of the Boks, and looked as if they may even sneak a win against all odds.
This was before Pietersen had his say. Receiving a ball between his 22m and the 10m line, he set off with pace and a sidestep, spotting a perfect gap to motor through, before bouncing out of a tackle and setting his side off towards the tryline.
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Twice it seemed as if the Boks had overcooked the straight-on runners, but eventually the ball was moved wide and popped back into Pietersen’s hands for him to cross the line and swallow dive his way onto the scoreboard.
Given how tense the moment was when Pietersen received the ball, it was a telling score, one which will go down in the annals of Bok history with pride.
There will be more time for a post-mortem afterwards by the team as they head to Port Elizabeth for the final outing, but much credit must be given to England for the way they refused to lie down after being brutally battered in the first half.
ALMOST A POINT A MINUTE
With the Boks clearly showing their intent from the kickoff, it looked at one stage if the scoreline could have been ugly with the Boks leading 25-10 at the break.
For the most part they scored almost a point a minute as they dominated every facet and went on where they left off in the second half in Durban.
The Boks were almost on the board two minutes into the game when Bryan Habana found space along the touchline, but Bismarck du Plessis couldn’t hold onto his pop pass. But from the ensuing scrum, Willem Alberts poached the ball as it came out of the setpiece and went over, stunning England in the process.
The English may argue that the ball went through the scrum, so it should have been reset, but the ball never passed under the front row anyway as it was put in crooked and spilled out from under the locks.
Still, the Boks were on the board early and three minutes later Du Plessis powered his way over with incredible strength to put the Boks 12-0 out.
England flyhalf Toby Flood, who was superb in his kicking duties, pulled a penalty back before the Boks pressed home their dominance in spectacular fashion, battering the English line before Bismarck popped the ball to Hougaard for a brutally physical try.
Steyn added another penalty, but it was another uncharacteristically off night for him, missing four kicks at goal, and Frans Steyn a long-distance one as well, showing the comfort the Boks may have won by if he was more successful.
However, Steyn’s all-round play has improved significantly, and his options are better, not sitting in the pocket anymore. Still, with a player such as Johan Goosen breathing down his neck, he knows he will have to rediscover his mojo if he is to stay the No 1 flyhalf.
A soft try before the break, as the Boks were pinned for not rolling away and Ben Youngs put his namesake Ben Morgan into the gap as the Boks were retreating gave Flood the score, and put England into double figures.
The second half started well for the Boks as they added another penalty, but a poor lineout throw on their own line cost them dearly, with Youngs snaffling the ball and going over despite some desperate tackling by Willem Alberts and Hougaard.
Alberts injured himself in the process, and whereas the substitutes added momentum in the first test, here they hindered the process, with England gaining the upper hand.
The Boks were to give away another try when Juandre Kruger lay motionless on the floor, being put onto a stretcher by the medical staff, with referee Alain Rolland refusing to stop play.
Without their key lineout man available, and down to 14 able men, the English put on a wonderful rolling maul, taking the Boks back to their tryline before Youngs popped over for his second try.
Flood reduced the deficit to 31-27 with a penalty and it certainly seemed if all the momentum was with England.
But enter Pietersen, whose sublime running saved the day, and gave this Bok team another victory. There is certainly a lot of hard work to do going forward, but as most coaches will tell you, winning makes it so much easier.
Once again the Boks produced a good 40 minutes to pound England into submission, and once again they didn’t finish the job. There is no doubt Meyer will be drumming home the 80-minute message again this week.
South Africa – Tries: Willem Alberts, Bismarck du Plessis, Francois Hougaard, JP Pietersen. Conversions: Morne Steyn (2). Penalties: Steyn (3). Drop goal: Steyn.
England – Tries: Toby Flood, Ben Youngs (2). Conversions: Flood (3). Penalties: Flood (2).