11 June 2012
The Springboks gave Heynecke Meyer a winning start in his first match as national coach, beating England 22-17 at Kings Park in Durban on Saturday evening.
It was a tight contest and the teams were level at half-time, but the Boks lifted their game in the second half to pull away from the tourists, who scored a late consolation try to pull within seven points of the home side.
After the game, Meyer admitted that he had delivered a half-time blast to his charges, which clearly had the desired effect, as South Africa dominated the third quarter of the contest to pull clear.
“At some stages I really thought we played great rugby,” he said after the test. “We moved the ball around and I was happy with the result, but we butchered one or two tries and you need to finish those in test match rugby.
‘Very high standards’
“I think that this team has been so great from the start, they have got very high standards, so, although there were some hard words, they knew that they had to step up in the second half.”
Assessing England’s performance, Meyer said: “I thought that England were brillant in the way that they put pressure on the nine [scrumhalf], and they pressed very hard in midfield, so we made a few changes to our tactical kicking in the second half, which worked.
“I thought the first 20 minutes they pressed very hard and we should have played more tactically, but the plan was always to open up the game in the second half.
“I thought England’s tactical kicking was much better than ours in the first half, they put the ball in behind us and moved us around, so we couldn’t get any quick ball or momentum, but once we changed things in the second half, it went much better.”
The Springboks’ tight scrums, especially, were impressive as the front row of Beast Mtawarira, Bismarck du Plessis and Jannie du Plessis ruled the roost. Later, replacements Coenie Oosthuizen and Adriaan Strauss ensured the Springboks remained in the ascendancy.
All three South African debutants – Marcell Coetzee, Eben Etzebeth and Juandre Kruger – delivered in their first matches in the green and gold.
Importantly, the more established players showed strong leadership and contributed significantly to the South African victory, with men such as captain Jean de Villiers, Bryan Habana and Francois Steyn standing out.
England competed intensely at the breakdowns in the first half and did a good job of making matters difficult for the Springboks, but once the Boks started protecting their own ball better and challenging the English ball more effectively, they were able to play more of the game on the front foot.
Flyhalf Morne Steyn, very unusually for him, had an off day with the boot in windy conditions. Had he kicked to his usual high standards, the game would not have been as close as the final scoreline suggests it was.
Early on, Habana launched a good counter-attack after fielding a kick. The ball was moved wide to Pietersen, but the big wing was forced into touch.
A couple of minutes later, England were awarded a penalty after the Boks were blown up for playing the ball on the ground at a ruck. Owen Farrell took a shot at goal and was successful, putting the tourists into a 3-0 lead.
In the 12th minute, flank Willem Alberts made a strong break from a ruck after Habana had put good pressure on fullback Mike Brown from a high-up-and-under launched by flyhalf Steyn. When Alberts went to ground, the English slowed the South African ball and referee Steve Walsh awarded a penalty against them.
Morne Steyn was on target with his kick at goal and the sides were level at 3-3.
England hit the front once more in the 27th minute after winning a penalty at a breakdown and Farrell again hit the target.
South Africa stormed back onto the attack and within three minutes were on level terms once more thanks to a Morne Steyn penalty.
Just before the break, Steyn had an opportunity to put South Africa in front, but a shot of goal drifted well wide of the right hand upright.
The Springboks upped their intensity in the second half and it paid off after eight minutes when Morne Steyn went over for a try. It began when captain De Villiers made good ground up the left flank. The ball was then brought back to the right where Alberts broke through a tackle before finding Jannie Du Plessis on the charge.
The big prop barrelled towards the tryline, but was stopped just five metres short of the whitewash. Etzebeth did well to make some ground from slow ball and then Patrick Lambie, on for Zane Kirchner, was stopped mere centimetres short of the line.
Francois Hougaard was then stopped and Beast Mtawarira came within sniffing distance of the line. The ball was moved right again and Morne Steyn, with JP Pietersen outside of him, sold a dummy before going over for the five-pointer. His conversion attempt passed to the left of the posts and South Africa led 11-6.
The men in green and gold had a chance to extend their lead when they won a penalty 10 metres out and right in front of the posts, but scrumhalf Hougaard inexplicably took a quick penalty instead of the almost certain three points, which left coach Meyer gesturing unhappily towards the field.
On the hour mark, Francois Steyn fielded a high-up-and-under from England scrumhalf Ben Youngs midway between the English 22-metre line and the 10-metre line. He neatly off-loaded to Habana, who hit the ball at speed.
When he was tackled midway inside the English 22, Ruan Pienaar, on for Hougaard, moved the ball swiftly to the right. De Villiers received it in space, pinned his ears back, cut in slightly and bashed his way over the line for the Springboks’ second try.
South Africa led 16-6 after Steyn missed the conversion, but England were soon within seven points when Farrell slotted a third penalty to make it 16-9.
Two penalties by Steyn followed in the next 10 minutes, leaving South Africa 22-12 ahead with only two minutes to play.
With time up, England finally crossed the Springboks’ tryline. They made ground into the South African 22 and forced a ruck before passing the ball out wide to Ben Foden, who crashed over in the corner despite a desperate tackle attempt by Francois Steyn.
Farrell’s attempt to go five from five in the difficult kicking conditions was wide and the final whistle sounded with South Africa 22-17 winners.
It was hard-hitting contest and unfortunately for England’s South African-born centre Brad Barritt, formerly of the Sharks, he was one of two big casualties for England on the day.
Barritt suffered a lacerated eyeball, which required surgery. He is, however, expected to be fit for the third test. Fullback Mike Brown injured a thumb and will miss the rest of the series.
Zane Kirchner’s fitness is questionable after he injured a knee.
The Springboks and England next meet on Saturday at Coca-Cola Park in Johannesburg. Before that, the tourists play a midweek match against the SA Barbarians South in Kimberley on Wednesday.
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