24 November 2008
After narrow victories over Wales and Scotland, the Springboks were expected to be pushed hard by England in their final test of the year on Saturday. As it happened, South Africa saved their best for last, crushing England 42-6 to hand them their biggest loss ever at Twickenham.
The victory was built on a stubborn hard-hitting defence and opportunistic counter-attacking with a sharp edge.
Captain John Smit said afterwards that South Africa won the battle of the advantage line: when the Boks had the ball they dented the line, while England were knocked backwards when they had the ball.
Committed and ferocious
The image of England retaining possession but losing territory is one that will remain from the test; time after time they were repulsed by committed and ferocious gang tackling which earned the Springboks the upper hand at the collisions.
England did well to force a number of turnovers – probably the area of South Africa’s game that was most concerning – but they were unable to do much with the ball they won because of the Boks’ fierce tackling.
When England managed to get close to the South African tryline some outstanding defence stopped them crossing the whitewash; Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha came up with two of the best stops of the game, with England looking odds-on to score on both occasions.
A number of tries resulted from defence – attacking defence – as the Springboks ran in five tries to nil.
Meanwhile, the experiment of converting Ruan Pienaar from scrumhalf to flyhalf proved to be an outstanding success. He performed well in all three of the Springboks’ tests on their tour and was very impressive at Twickenham.
The suggestion by former Brumbies and Wallabies coach that Pienaar reminds him of Australian legend Stephen Larkham looks as if it could be accurate.
England started the game with a grubber from the kick off. Schalk Burger managed to gather the ball, but the Springboks were penalised for going off their feet at the breakdown. Danny Cipriani stepped up and slotted the penalty to give the home team a 3-0 lead in the first minute.
When Conrad Jantjes kicked off for the Boks, his kick went directly into touch. From the resulting scrum on the halfway line South Africa were penalised. After the unconvincing showings of the previous two weeks, Springbok supporters could have been forgiven for thinking it was going to be “one of those days”. However, the SA ship was soon righted.
Captain Smit forced a penalty at a ruck by staying on his feet as he tried to win the ball while England held onto possession. Ruan Pienaar took a kick at goal and struck it sweetly to pull South Africa level at 3-3.
The early scrums were a mess and after nine minutes referee Nigel Owens penalised the Boks at a set piece. England flyhalf Cipriani attempted a penalty from 49 metres out, but was short of the uprights.
There was a heart-in-mouth moment for South African fans when Jantjes had a kick charged down inside the SA 22. Bryan Habana raced back to gather the ball, but conceded a five-metre scrum to the England.
Four minutes later the Springboks had turned defence into attack and forced a scrum near the England tryline. Pienaar made a half-break to force England onto the back foot. Then, when the ball was moved inside, Danie Rossouw ran onto it at pace, fought his way through three would-be tacklers and crashed over near the posts for the first try of the match.
Pienaar knocked over the easy conversion to put the Springboks seven points clear at 10-3.
The flyhalf was then solely responsible for South Africa’s next try when he charged down a kick by Cipriani, fielded the bouncing ball and ran through to score under the English uprights.
His conversion increased the SA advantage to 17-3.
Three minutes later England broke out after a swiftly taken penalty. Delon Armitage headed for the right hand corner, but Bakkies Botha with a superb effort and excellent cover defence, tackled him and forced the fullback to put a foot on the sideline only metres from the tryline as JP Pietersen arrived to assist him.
Pienaar knocked over another penalty to put South Africa 20-3 ahead, but Cipriani answered with one for England to make the score 20-6.
Tendai “The Beast” Mtawarira was yellow-carded 10 minutes from the break for going off his feet at a ruck, leaving South Africa to play most of the rest of the half with only 14 men. England, though, could not take advantage of their numerical superiority.
After the break England worked their way up to the South African tryline, but Victor Matfield made an outstanding tackle to turn back the English charge less than a metre short of the line.
Shortly afterwards the Boks struck a sharp blow in response to England’s attacking efforts. JP Pietersen made an incision into the England backline with a nice run before offloading to Adrian Jacobs who, with a sharp change of direction, wrong-footed Armitage and then held off the covering Paul Sackey to crash over for South Africa’s third try.
Pienaar slotted the conversion to move South Africa into a 27-6 lead.
Once again England worked their way up the field, but South Africa’s defence was stubborn and Bryan Habana stopped the home team in their tracks with an outstanding and powerful tackle.
30 points up
After an hour Jaque Fourie, on as a substitute, won SA a penalty and Pienaar made it 30-6.
For the second time in the contest South Africa were reduced to 14 men when referee Owens deemed Jantjes guilty of obstruction as England sought a way through the stubborn Springbok defence. It appeared to be a dubious decision with replays indicating that Jantjes had merely stood his ground after the ball had been chipped over his head.
With less than 10 minutes to go Francois Steyn almost created a fourth try for SA with a neat break. Habana was up in support and offloaded to Jean de Villiers, but he was brought down just short of the tryline.
Springbok determination and doggedness was underlined four minutes from time when they once again blunted an England attack and turned the ball over. Steyn punted far downfield and Fourie chased. He arrived at the ball fractionally after Paul Sackey, but wrestled the ball from the England winger.
Delon Armitage raced back to tackle Fourie, but he handed off the fullback, stumbled to his knees, regained his feet and ran through for South Africa’s fourth five-pointer. Steyn, whose kick had started the try-scoring movement, knocked over the conversion to extend the South African lead to 37-6.
With time running out the Springboks were awarded a free-kick, which they quickly moved wide. Good hands gave Habana some space and he dived over for Boks’ fifth try.
Steyn was wide with the attempted conversion, but when the final whistle sounded straight after that South Africa had ended their three-match tour of the United Kingdom with a record 42-6 victory over England.
Ironically, it was the same margin of victory as the Springboks achieved over the English in pool play at the 2007 Rugby World Cup, when they won 36-0.
While most of England’s fans quietly left Twickenham, the Boks did a victory lap of the stadium, cheered on by the many South African fans in attendance.
or on your website?
See: Using SAinfo material