Epic Bok comeback confirms new dawn
Brenden Nel
June 09, 2018

Springbok rugby’s brave new dawn stuttered for the first 18 minutes at Emirates Airline Park on Saturday night, but then roared into life to complete one of the most remarkable victories in more than a century of test matches for the Green and Gold

England shocked the Springboks with three early tries to lead 24-3 before a quarter of the game was up, but Rassie Erasmus’ young team not only found their feet, they found their voice and their passion to score five exceptional tries to win the game 42-39.

It was everything that Erasmus would have had nightmares about, a start so bad that it looked like there was no way back. Started by a monster 61 metre penalty by Elliot Daly, and followed by a missed tackle by Handre Pollard that allowed Mike Brown to power his way over. Four minutes gone and 10-0 down.

It got worse. Daly found so much space on the outside in the 14th minute to run in a second try and three minutes later the Bok defence was nowhere on the blindside as a simple pass from Johnny May inside to Owen Farrell looked like it spelt disaster for the Boks.

But somewhere, somehow, they found their voice.

It may have been the calm nature of Willie le Roux calling his debutant wings together and getting their nerves under control. Or it was Duane Vermeulen’s stature in the pack that drove them forward.

Or perhaps it was the lion heart of Faf de Klerk, who stood way taller than his 1.69 metre frame to become a colossus on the park for the Springboks. If ever they needed an inspirational voice, De Klerk gave it to them as he was everywhere and more.

It was he who found the gap to put them on the front foot, and he who sent the ball wide to S’bu Nkosi to get the Bok machine rolling again, and when Nkosi obliged and made the obligatory metres to within inches of the line, it was De Klerk who put the Boks on the board with a typical halfback try.

The try spoke volumes for the fight in this young side, on the ropes and ready for the taking, that they were not going to let themselves be humbled. With De Klerk’s try the belief was there again, and they saw weaknesses exposed in the English setup.

Nine minutes later the Boks were battering the English again, with De Klerk setting up quick ball for Lukhanyo Am to draw his opposite number and put Nkosi away again. This time the debutant toed ahead and as Daly missed the touchdown he was there to claim his maiden try, and signal a significant shift in momentum.

Four minutes later it was on the other side of the field where Le Roux’s brilliance came to the fore. He drew two defenders before sending the ball out to Aphiwe Dyantyi, who had the good mind to pass inside to Nkosi, who claimed his second try of the night.

Suddenly this was a different game, and the Boks were back. And it got better. De Klerk took the ball off a powerful maul, gave a long pass to Pollard, who sent it wide to Le Roux. The fullback stretched the defence so much that he went in himself, putting the Springboks most remarkably in the lead before halftime.

A late Owen Farrell penalty made it 29-28 at the break, but the momentum was all with the Boks.

The second half became more tactical as it went on. The Boks were eager and found inroads but fluffed several chances with handling errors and England simply just kept hanging on.

Two missed penalties by Pollard kept England in the game as he stretched it to five points with a successful kick in the 52nd minute.

But it was a shoulder charge that eventually gave the Boks the upper hand, as Mako Vunipola took out De Klerk late – something Maro Itoje had been doing all game – and eventually caught the attention of the match officials.

It allowed the Boks to camp on the England line once again, and after RG Snyman and Siya Kolisi both made forays it was an easy run in for Dyantyi, who continued his remarkable debut run in scoring tries. The winger has now scored in his debut for koshuis rugby, Varsity Cup, SuperSport Series, Currie Cup, Super Rugby and now in his first test as well, marking an amazing run for the youngster.

It seemed all over at 39-27 but England had other ideas, and Maro Itoje planted the ball over the line from close range to signal a late comeback. Another Pollard penalty brought daylight back again before England scored a scorcher of a late try.

Johnny May’s blistering pace on the counter attack was sensational as he burned Duane Vermeulen and left the Boks grasping at straws, and more importantly it gave his team a chance to come within a score with two minutes left.

But a towering steal by Snyman got the ball back for the Boks and they closed the match out, leaving those in attendance gasping for superlatives at the stunning examination of test rugby they had just seen.

Rugby may be the game played in heaven, but in the iconic storyline of one of the greatest stadiums on earth, there was beauty in Springbok rugby again. Siya Kolisi may have provided the inspirational storyline for the build-up. But the three debutants and Faf de Klerk wrote a story as passionate as the jersey they played in.

And gave the world some beauty in Bok rugby again.


South Africa – tries: Faf de Klerk, S’bu Nkosi (2), Willie le Roux, Aphiwe Dyantyi. Conversions: Handre Pollard (4). Penalties: Pollard (3)

England – tries: Mike Brown, Elliot Daly, Owen Farrell, Maro Itoje, Johnny May. Conversions: Owen Farrell (4). Penalties: Elliot Daly, Farrell

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