25 June 2012
After a 14-14 draw with England in Port Elizabeth on Saturday evening, the Springboks remain undefeated under coach Heynecke Meyer, but they were the less satisfied of the two teams following a sub-standard performance.
Neither coach was happy with the outcome. After the game, Meyer termed his team’s performance “unacceptable”, while England’s Stuart Lancaster called the result “frustrating”.
Meyer’s unhappiness was further underlined when he added: “Today was a step backwards.”
Springbok captain Jean de Villiers commented: “We won the series 2-0 and we are satisfied with that, but I think they got better as the series progressed and I guess we got a little worse towards the end.”
South Africa could have won had Morne Steyn’s kicking slump not continued, but that would have been unfair to the English, who delivered a committed and physical performance. By the same token, it was not worthy of a victory either.
The wet conditions were not conducive to an open contest, and with ball in hand the match was played mostly around the fringes of the set pieces and rucks, while both sides made liberal use of the boot too.
England excelled on close-in defence and the Springboks aided the tourists by seldom testing them out wide with backline runners instead of forwards driving the ball up.
Having said that, the most controversial choice for the South African team, centre Wynand Olivier (playing in place of Frans Steyn who was getting married), proved to be the best of the South African backs. He found gaps on attack and made good ground, while on defence he neutralised English battering ram Manu Tuilagi.
Up front, the set pieces were very even. The Springboks shaded the possession stakes and did put the English under some pressure with their driving play, a fact that was underlined by the sin-binning of captain Dylan Hartley for deliberately slowing the ball down.
It could just as easily have been prop Dan Cole who received a yellow card after he was blown up at least three times for clumsy infringements at rucks by referee Steve Walsh.
Behind the pack, scrumhalf Francois Hougaard and flyhalf Morne Steyn failed to provide the control the Boks were seeking. Hougaard’s service tended to be a little slow, as he tends to take too many steps before passing, while Steyn’s kicking game was off all-round. He also tended to take the ball too deep behind the forwards when on the attack.
That was one of the reasons why fullback Alex Goode was one of England’s most impressive players, but give credit where credit is due, he had to make the plays after fielding the kicks.
Scrumhalf Danny Care provided good service and was a constant threat on attack. He was rewarded with England’s only try of the game after taking a quick tap and powering through some poor South African defence.
The three men who came into the South African team did a satisfactory job. At the back, Gio Aplon delivered a wholehearted performance and showed a willingness to mix it up with the big boys. Olivier, as already mentioned, was good, while Jacques Potgieter on the flank was solid. However, he could not provide the physical dominance of the injured Willem Alberts, whose power was missed.
Marcell Coetzee, on the opposite flank, was the pick of the South African forwards, with his work rate unrivalled.
A vociferous Port Elizabeth crowd provided superb support for the home team as the contest kicked off, but it was England who went ahead early on.
Flank Marcell Coetzee was penalised for not rolling away at a ruck and England flyhalf Toby Flood knocked over an easy kick to give his team a 3-0 advantage.
A couple of minutes later Bismarck du Plessis gave away a penalty when he fielded a ball in an offside position after Gio Aplon had spilt a high-up-and-under in one of his few missteps of the evening. Flood, who had been hurt in a tackle, again took a kick at goal, but was wide with his effort.
Good following up on kick by Bryan Habana put the English under pressure and led to them going offside as they scrambled to defend. Steyn took a shot at goal and landed it to level the contest at 3-3.
After a charge-down by England lock Tom Palmer, South Africa were forced onto the defensive in their own 22.
The play moved to the left where referee Walsh blew for an earlier offside on the right of the field. Scrumhalf Care reached the mark quickly and took a quick tap. Spotting a small gap, he accelerated, put his head down low and ploughed over for a try.
Flood missed the conversion, leaving England 8-3 ahead.
It didn’t take long for South Africa to reply with a penalty. With the Boks on attack, England were blown up for not rolling away at a ruck and Steyn slotted the kick to make it 8-6 in England’s favour.
A minute later, England flyhalf Flood left the field with an injury and was replaced by Owen Farrell.
In the 22nd minute, the home team had an opportunity to take the lead when the English were once more pinged for not rolling away at ruck time. Steyn was off target this time and the tourists remained in front.
Aplon, the smallest man on the field, then turned over possession among the big forwards after making a strong tackle on scrumhalf Care. South Africa had good ball to attack with, but England once again slowed down the release of the ball and referee Walsh gave captain Dylan Hartley a warning.
South African lead
Steyn made them pay with his third penalty of the match, moving South Africa into a 9-8 lead.
The final 10 minutes of the half saw the home team on the offensive, but England’s committed and powerful tackling stifled De Villiers and company’s attacking intent.
South Africa managed to get within five metres of the English try line, but a good tackle on lock Eben Etzebeth dislodged the ball and stopped a dangerous attack.
Three minutes into the second half, the Springboks created a little space on the right flank, but winger Ben Foden made an important stop on eighthman Pierre Spies, who would have been away had it not been for the good tackle.
England then moved into the lead with a Farrell penalty from inside the South African 22.
He started the penalty-winning movement with a pin-perfect high-up-and-under, which landed just outside the 22. Aplon bravely fielded the kick, but was drilled by Chris Ashton sprinting full tilt down the field. The big hit made it hard for the fullback to release the ball without conceding possession and he was blown up for holding onto it.
Steyn had a chance to restore the lead to South Africa shortly after that, but his kick at the posts was off line.
Referee Walsh’s patience with England’s slowing down of the ball at ruck time was finally tested too much by Hartley and he was sinbinned in the 51st minute. The Springboks, though, struggled to make the opposition pay.
In the 62nd minute, South Africa finally broke through the English defences to score what would be their only try of the match. The forwards set it up with some strong surges at the try line and Ruan Pienaar, on for Hougaard at scrumhalf, set JP Pietersen loose with a nice pass that outflanked the defensive line and allowed the winger through for an easy score.
Steyn’s conversion passed just left of the uprights, but South Africa led 14-11.
Eight minutes from time, England drew level when Farrell landed a penalty after the Boks had strayed offsides during a period sustained English attack.
Steyn attempted a drop kick, but his kicking game had gone well and truly south, and so, too, did his kick, off to the right of the posts.
The game came to its conclusion with England stringing together almost 20 phases of play. The Springboks defended manfully, refusing to give away a penalty nor much ground.
Eventually flyhalf Farrell attempted a drop goal from just inside the South African 10-metre line, but his effort resembled a grubber more than a drop and the final whistle sounded with the teams playing to their first draw since their first clash way back in 1906.
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