26 November 2012
The Springboks completed an unbeaten end-of-year tour with a 16-15 win over England at Twickenham on Saturday. In a battle of two evenly matched teams, the bounce of the ball and a strange decision helped South Africa to victory.
The Boks benefited from one of the freakiest tries one will ever see to score their only try, while England captain Chris Robshaw made one of the daftest decisions he will ever make to keep his side from challenging for the win at the end of the contest.
Down by four points, with only two minutes and 20 seconds to play, Robshaw chose to kick at the posts instead of kicking the ball out in the corner and going for victory with a try from the lineout. It was a puzzling decision that drew massive boos from the crowd. It also took a minute-and-a-half off the clock and left the Springboks to hold on for only a minute more.
It was, nonetheless, a good performance from the Boks in testing, rainy conditions. “It was very tough out there today. It could have gone either way. England is a quality side,” South Africa’s coach Heyneke Meyer said afterwards.
“Our defense was awesome,” he added. “There wasn’t any space and it was a wet ball. But our discipline was very good.
“We talked about it before the time and we really did well with that. We only conceded one try on the whole tour and I am very happy about that.”
Reflecting on his first year in charge of the men in green and gold, Meyer said: “It was a tough year for us. We lost around 10 players after the World Cup last year and another 10 through injury.
“We probably would have lost a match like this earlier in the year, but this time our guts have won it for us. That is what you need to win World Cups.”
Captain Jean de Villiers was a happy man after the victory and unbeaten tour run was secured. “It is great. We came over here wanting three wins and we got that, so we’re pretty happy tonight,” he said.
“I think we put ourselves under a lot of pressure and made it difficult for ourselves, but earlier in the year we probably would’ve lost this game and we learned from it, stuck through it and got through it.”
In the week preceding the test, Meyer had urged flyhalf Patrick Lambie to play his natural game and even though the conditions were difficult Lambie showed signs of the vision and attacking instincts that had stood out for the Sharks. It was his best game on tour.
At the back, Zane Kirchner excelled in conditions tailor-made for his conservative approach. His steadiness under the high ball was exceptional.
In the wet, though, plenty was going to depend on the battle between the two forward packs.
South Africa struggled in the set pieces in the first half, with Nigel Owen penalising tighthead Jannie du Plessis a good number of times for scrumming in. On most of those occasions, he appeared to have pinged the wrong player as English loosehead Alex Corbisiero continually turned inwards. Pat Cilliers, a more mobile man, however, steadied the Springbok scrum in the second half as Du Plessis took a well-deserved break after a very long season.
Man of the match
At the back of the scrum, Man of the match Duane Vermeulen was superb. He turned over ball, carried it up well and put in plenty of big hits. He is a very physical player and takes a step back for no one.
Vermeulen’s fellow loose forwards, Willem Alberts and Francois Louw, also put in a huge amount of work, and Marcel Coetzee, as he had done throughout the tour, was excellent off the bench. His tackle rate is astounding and his work rate equally good.
Lock Eben Etzebeth continued his growth and was a constant threat to steal ball at the front of the lineout as England struggled against the South African big men. It’s astonishing to think that Etzebeth only recently turned 21 and was playing Varsity Cup rugby last year.
On the subject of lineouts, the Springboks were brilliant throughout their tour. In their three tests against Ireland, Scotland and England, they never once conceded their own throw-in. Give credit to the lineout jumpers and to hooker Adriaan Strauss too.
Playing in place of Bismarck du Plessis and serving as vice-captain, Strauss was one of the Boks best players on tour. His throwing in was superb, his scrumming strong and his work around the park outstanding. His two tries in the test against Scotland were just reward for an outstanding tour.
When Saturday’s match began, England were full of fire. They charged down scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar’s first attempt at a kick and then caught Patrick Lambie in possession as he tried to tidy up and forced a penalty out of the flyhalf.
Toby Flood, sporting a wonderful “Movember ” Pancho Villa-style moustache, missed the kick, but three minutes later he was on target.
The Springboks got back on level terms when Etzebeth stole an England throw-in, giving the Boks attacking ball. After taking it up through a number of phases, England conceded a penalty and Lambie landed the resulting kick at goal from a wide angle.
When Jannie du Plessis was blown up by referee Owens at scrum time, Flood was given another opportunity to score and he responded well by splitting the uprights and putting England 6-3 ahead.
That lead lasted only two minutes, however, as Robshaw was penalised for breaking his bind in the set piece and Lambie kicked the penalty.
England then launched a series of attacks at the Springboks, but the South African defence was resolute and drove the English back until, after 20 phases, Vermeulen forced a penalty with his attempt to steal possession.
An easy penalty by Lambie, after an English defender had entered a ruck from the side, put the Springboks 9-6 ahead. They were to remain in front for the rest of the game.
Four minutes into the second half, South Africa’s lead was extended to 10 points after a bizarre try.
The Boks were heavily on attack deep in the England 22 when Ruan Pienaar fed Juandre Kruger, who spilt the ball backwards in a tackle. Scrumhalf Ben Youngs hacked the ball ahead, but straight into JP Pietersen. It rebounded towards the try line where Willem Alberts gathered it up and crashed over for the five-pointer.
“All tries are worth five points and we’ll definitely take that one. It was a well-worked try, ” Springbok skipper Jean de Villiers smiled after the game. “Sometimes the bounce of the ball goes your way and definitely tonight it did.”
It took England 15 minutes to fnd a reply through Owen Farrell, who had replaced an injured Flood early in the match. He knocked over a penalty after Vermeulen was blown up at a ruck to make it 16-9.
With eight minutes to go, Farrell was again on target after Francois Louw was blown up for playing the ball at a ruck while off his feet.
England kept pressuring South Africa and with only two minutes remaining were awarded another penalty, which is when Robshaw made his silly decision. It brought England to within a point of South Africa, but almost extinguished their chances of victory.
When England lock Mouritz Botha knocked on Lambie’s kick off, South Africa had the ball back and the result was all but confirmed.
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