17 September 2007
Led by a sensational performance from man of the match Fourie du Preez, the Springboks laid down a Rugby World Cup marker by crushing defending champions England 36-0 in Paris on Friday evening. It was a clinical, controlled, and hugely impressive performance by the men in green and gold.
Before the showdown, England captain Martin Corry had picked the match as the “defining moment” of the 2003 champion’s title defence; In hindsight, he might wish to have those words erased from people’s memories.
SA skipper John Smit rated the whitewash as one of the best Springbok wins of his career. The greatest satisfaction, he said, came from not conceding a point to the English, adding that it is the Boks’ belief that defence will define their campaign in France.
South Africa’s coach Jake White reckoned the victory was the best one the Boks’ had achieved under him. He said there had been plenty of talk about facing England ever since the World Cup draw was made two years ago.
England’s captain Martin Corry said South Africa had some of the world’s best players in their ranks and reserved special praise for scrumhalf Du Preez. He also expressed his disappointment in the performance of his team, terming it “criminal”.
Focus and accuracy
South Africa showed better focus and were more accurate in their execution as they dominated England, who seldom looked like they would move off the zero points they began with. While the Springboks managed 36 points, they could have scored closer to fifty had it not been for one or two errors.
The clash showed clearly that White’s charges had grown together over the four-year period since the last World Cup, while England certainly looked like a team that had been thrown together, which, in essence, they had been due to a number of injuries and the suspension of captain Phil Vickery.
John Smit’s men capitalised on most of the opportunities they created, showing a nice cutting edge once they had punched holes in England’s defences. What was especially impressive was SA’s patience and discipline as they didn’t try to force a knockout blow, but carefully constructed phase after phase of play.
They put pressure on England by employing an excellent kicking game that forced the English to play from deep in their own half. That tactical superiority, along with a well-organised defence, which led to a huge advantage in turnover ball, led to chances. With Percy Montgomery unerring with the boot, South Africa put points on the board and slowly, inexorably, pulled away to victory.
Du Preez was at the heart of the Springboks’ dominance, exhibiting fine decision making, knowing when to kick, knowing when to pass, knowing when to probe the English defences. And when he did take his shots at England’s defenders it was with razor-sharp incision as he opened up the gaps to send the Boks on their try-scoring way.
Wickus van Heerden, playing in the place of the suspended Schalk Burger, turned in a whole-hearted performance, winning a number of turnovers for South Africa, including one that set up a Springbok try.
Victor Matfield caused England all sorts of problems in the lineouts, stealing a number of throw-ins while, behind the pack, Butch James conducted the backline beautifully from flyhalf. His tactical kicking was spot on.
Eddie Jones’ impact
Coach White credited technical assistant Eddie Jones for the clockwork smooth functioning of the halfbacks, Du Preez and James, saying the former Wallaby coach had made a huge impact.
Francois Steyn was brilliant at inside centre, especially on defence. There was no way through the sturdy youngster and he was responsible for a number of turnovers.
Bryan Habana saw a disappointingly small amount of ball, but each time he touched it the expectations of the crowd was obvious and he managed to put in some testing runs. With Habana not getting much possession on the left wing, JP Pietersen benefited on the right as he ran in two tries.
Percy Montgomery, at fullback, was calmness personified and his kicking at poles was exemplary as he landed three conversions and three penalties. Steyn added a longer range penalty.
After an opening that saw South Africa mostly putting boot to ball for the first five minutes, while also establishing an early dominance in the lineouts by stealing England ball, the Boks struck.
Near the halfway line, at a ruck, Du Preez, noticed that England hooker Mark Regan, who was protecting the blindside, had crept infield. He exploited the defensive weak spot by setting JP Pietersen free down the right flank.
Pietersen made good ground up to the 22-metre line before passing back inside to the scrumhalf. Du Preez almost rounded the last defender, but was knocked off balance and upended. He kept his composure and looked inside before releasing a pass to Juan Smith who raced over the tryline to open the scoring.
Percy Montgomery stepped up to make the conversion and move within a point of 800 in test matches.
Ten points clear
Four minutes later, the Bok had another chance to add points when they were awarded a penalty. It was a little long for Montgomery, but not for the booming boot of Francois Steyn. His effort was dead on target, lifting South Africa into a 10-0 lead after 11 minutes.
With 21 minutes played, Du Preez showed his fantastic vision and tactical understanding when SA was awarded a penalty. Typically the ball would have been kicked to touch, from which South Africa would have had a throw-in, but the number-nine had another idea.
Claiming the ball quickly, he kicked deep down the middle of the field. Bryan Habana and Jaque Fourie chased the kick as two England defenders closed in on it. Fourie made it to the ball first, shaking off the first tackle, before being brought down by a desperate tackle from Josh Lewsey.
Fourie could have passed inside to Habana, but he chose to keep the ball and lost it as he tried to dot down. It was a big let off for England.
Three attempts were then made at drop kicks – the Stade de France is where Jannie de Beer landed a world record five drops in the 1999 World Cup quarterfinals against England – but Montgomery missed twice and Steyn once.
Stretching the lead
With halftime drawing near, Du Preez drew Matt Stevens into a penalty for being offsides at a ruck and Montgomery stepped up for a shot at goal. His strike was straight and true, increasing South Africa’s lead to 13-0.
Just before the break, Du Preez struck a killer blow when he took advantage of turnover ball won by Van Heerden. Spotting a gap, he accelerated down the field towards England fullback Jason Robinson. He drew the number-15 perfectly before passing to Pietersen on his right for an easy score.
Montgomery stuck over the conversion to give South Africa a 20-0 halftime advantage. It was clear that, barring a miracle, England would not be able to overcome that deficit.
Six minutes into the second half, Montgomery knocked over another penalty to make it 23-0.
A quarter-of-an-hour in, England collapsed a Springbok maul and Montgomery was given another opportunity, which he unerringly slotted to put SA 26-0 ahead.
England managed to pin South Africa in their territory for a while, but Du Preez struck again to take away what wind there was left in the English sails. Exploiting the blindside once more, he took off at pace before drawing a defender and presenting Pietersen with another simple run-in.
Montgomery added the extras and extended South Africa’s advantage to 33-0.
With only a minute left, he completed the scoring by adding another penalty as the Boks completed a dominating victory.
Such was the dominance of the win that Jake White was able to send all his substitutes onto the field for a good and lengthy run.
There was some concern about Du Preez after he injured a shoulder and left the field after 66 minutes; ot was a shoulder injury that sidelined the Springbok star at the end of the Super 14. However, judging from his smiles on the bench, and the fact that he wasn’t applying an ice pack, it didn’t appear to be a serious knock.
The Bok management says it is nothing to worry about and says all 30 members of the squad are fit for selection for the next match against Tonga.
Rested for Tonga game?
After the match, Springbok coach Jake White said he was planning on giving some of his players a rest against Tonga and he named, among others, John Smit, Os du Randt, Victor Matfield, and Du Preez.
He might be forced to re-evaluate that decision, however, after Tonga shocked Samoa 19-15 on Sunday to join the Springboks on two wins from two matches.
It was just a very small fly in the ointment after an excellent weekend for the Boks and their optimistic supporters.