Boks power to series win
Gavin Rich
June 16, 2018

The elation in the Springbok coaching box at the end siren said it all as Siya Kolisi’s team shut out England 23-12 at the Toyota Stadium in Bloemfontein to ensure a series win and an overwhelmingly positive start to the Rassie Erasmus era.

The smiling and the back-slapping was completely warranted. The management have worked hard to script a series win that a few months ago would have seemed unlikely.

It did look ominous for them early on and they have the same easily identifiable problem to think about after this game that they had after the win in the opening test at Emirates Airlines Park - that being a tendency to be a bit narrow on defence.

It was something sorted out later though, and it helped make sure that Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira was able to celebrate the occasion of his landmark 100th test in fine style.

Mtawarira would have had more reason to just look back on the game as memorable than just because it attained his three figure mark in caps.

It was his surge through England and into open space that set up the momentum that saw the Boks start their fightback from a 12-point deficit with a try to Duane Vermeulen.

The big No 8 was a deserved recipient of the man of the match award afterwards and his influence on the Bok game is one of several reasons why they have turned their luck around since last year.

Not that there were any other members of the Bok squad who should feel they delivered short of expectations, and most of the starting team and the players who came on from the bench improved on what they produced at Emirates Airlines Park.

Don’t take too much notice of the fact that apart from the try from Vermeulen that set the Boks on their way to victory they managed just one other seven pointer courtesy of a second-half penalty try.

Such was the dominance of the Boks that it would not have put a false gloss on their performance had they crossed for three more tries and won by more than 20 points.


In the last hour, once they had the ascendancy, they did fail to take advantage of several try-scoring opportunities, but they always had momentum and there was never much doubt they would win.

What underlined their dominance in the last hour was the 23 unanswered points they scored. Once the momentum was with them it was hard to fathom that England are so much higher than them on the world rankings.

On this evidence, it won’t be long before that is turned around.

There was an element of lightning striking twice in this game though, with England once again taking a commanding lead and then failing to hold onto it.

There were several other aspects of the game that were similar to last week too, such as the way England lost their discipline and conceded momentum in the middle stages of the first half.

The word déjà vu was mentioned in several conversations at halftime at Toyota Stadium and doubtless that would have been the case in many parts of South Africa.

What was different was that this time the Boks couldn’t claim to be surprised by the England tactics.

Whereas in Johannesburg the Boks were caught off guard when England elected to run at them rather than kick, this time they were probably ready for any eventuality, including what England did do, which was kick.

By the half hour mark England had probably put boot to ball more than the entire first test, but it was in the early minutes that they were particularly programmed to launching kicks onto the Bok back three.

There was an early chance for South Africa when Damian de Allende intercepted inside his own 22 and could well have set up a try had he utilised the unmarked Lukhanyo Am when he was under the shadow of the England posts.


But generally England enjoyed a marginal early territorial ascendancy, which was helped by them taking the early lead in the penalty count.

They appeared to be winning the collisions at that point, and their scrum blunted any early intent from the Bok eight to set up a platform for their team from that phase.

They also halted the Bok attempts to get across the gainline by using Damian de Allende and Pieter-Steph du Toit to carry the ball up, and initially it seemed they had the edge in the collisions.

That was to change quite emphatically later in the game.

England didn’t score points as early as last week, where they had Elliot Daly put them on the board with a monster place kick from his own 10-metre line before two minutes had been played, but when they did strike they did so in quick succession and from a South African viewpoint it was in a depressingly familiar and therefore ominous fashion.

The Boks' defence had been too narrow in the early stages at Emirates Airlines Park and the same malady made itself apparent again as first Mike Brown thundered in down the left touchline after the overlap had been too easily created, and then two minutes later it was the other wing, Jonny May, who went over on the right from an almost identical attack, just in the opposite direction.

Suddenly it was 12-0 and with 13 minutes gone they were repeating what they managed seven days earlier by managing nearly a point a minute in the first quarter.

The words of England coach Eddie Jones, who warned at the Johannesburg press conference that England would not make the same mistake again by offering a get out of jail free card, were starting to sound prophetic.

Only they proved to be wasted words, for much of the rest of the half, although the scoring wasn’t quite as rapid, was similar to last week too - the Boks had most of the possession and momentum.

At one stage the England team conceded four penalties in a row, and the hosts were able to get a partisan and raucous 40 000 Toyota Stadium crowd in behind them.


The Bok recovery started with a strong forward drive in the left corner after 16 minutes.

Apart from the intercept earlier, it was their first really positive statement in the game, and though the England forwards did well to repel them when twice they set attacking lineouts in the minutes immediately after that from penalties, you could sense that the Boks were starting to come into it physically.

Perhaps that was what led to a series of brawls that punctuated the middle stages of the half, and England might have been lucky not to have Mako Vunipola carded when he cynically slapped the head of Pieter-Steph du Toit when he was on the ground in a ruck.

Rugby is becoming too sanitised and referee Romaine Poite probably made the right call in decreeing that it was only a penalty but many other modern referees might have taken a different view and looked to douse the ill-temper and truculence by waving a yellow card.

The pressure on England told when Mtawarira broke through in the 23rd minute.

Initially it looked like the ball had been rolled too far back behind the advantage line from the breakdown to Vermeulen, but the loose-forward used his strength to power through an England defensive effort their coach is unlikely to be happy with.

At 12-7 the Boks were back in the game and two Handre Pollard penalties put them 13-12 up at halftime.

The recovery was complete, and with the Boks set to be boosted by their explosive bench players, the smart money was on them at that point to power on to victory.

That is what they did, with their march to victory being set by a penalty try that came about as the result of a destructive Bok scrumming effort on the England line, and thereafter it was Pollard’s boot - he did miss a relatively simple kick in the last 10 minutes that would have made the win more emphatic - that ensured that Erasmus’s first series in charge would be a winning one.

It was England’s fifth test defeat in a row and their coach will concede that they have some work to do if they want to regain the impressive momentum they enjoyed at the start of this World Cup cycle.


South Africa 23 - Try: Duane Vermeuelen; Penalty try; Conversion: Handre Pollard; Penalties: Handre Pollard 3.

England 12 - Tries: Mike Brown and Jonny May; Conversion: Owen Farrell.

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