An aggressive yet controlled Springbok forward performance set the platform for a convincing 31-28 victory on Saturday, reports JON CARDINELLI at Twickenham.
The scoreboard suggests that England were ever so close to claiming a rare South African scalp. But as was the case when England finished three points behind New Zealand last week, they were completely out-muscled and out-thought by a superior team. This England side was fortunate not to concede 50 points, let alone 31.
The scoreboard won’t tell the story about the Boks’ dominance at the point of contact. The visitors came to Twickenham on the back of an embarrassing loss to Ireland. The Boks were angry, and evidently wanted to inflict as much physical damage to England as possible.
In the face of such an intense yet controlled South African assault, a bewildered England side panicked. The English forwards never appeared up for the physical fight, and the halfbacks, flyhalf Owen Farrell in particular, was guilty of some woeful decision-making
All the Bok forwards deserve acknowledgment for their performance at the gainline this Saturday, as do the two South African centres Jan Serfontein and Jean de Villiers. Schalk Burger was the standout, though, as his rabid effort at the tackle made life very uncomfortable for the hosts. This was his best performance since returning to the Test game.
The Boks scored their first try via an intercept, and while Jan Serfontein raced 60m and dotted the ball down, that five-pointer should be credited to the collective. Big defence round the rucks forced England onto the back foot. Serfontein then timed his rush to perfection, and picked off Danny Care’s reckless pass. It was a massive moment.
The Boks were always in control of this clash, even if they didn’t control the scoreboard. Their lineout was excellent and they mauled well, and there were times when they showed real enterprise with ball in hand. The try scored by Cobus Reinach at the start of the second half was as good as any scored by a Test side in 2014.
Pat Lambie chipped over an advancing England defence, and Willie le Roux collected the ball and then found Reinach with a deft pass. That score extended South Africa's lead to 20-6, and it was from there that the Boks should have piled on the points.
But a series of team infringements at the maul would see Victor Matfield receiving a yellow card in the 44th minute. This robbed the Boks of one of their leaders as well as their lineout maestro, and it wasn’t surprising to see the hosts scoring 14 unanswered points to level the scores.
And yet, England played with little conviction. Farrell continued to kick poorly out of hand, and together the England halfbacks struggled to bring the backline into the game effectively. Credit must go to the Bok defence, but the England attack was anything but threatening.
Dylan Hartley’s stamp in the 60th minute would see England reduced to 14 men. This was again an opportunity for the Boks to punish England and really build a score that would reflect the dominance of their performance.
While they failed to take that chance, they always had enough to beat this England side. The hosts had one final chance to go the length of the field and score, but were ultimately well marshalled by the Bok defence, and then turned over.
It was the story of their night, and indeed the story of Stuart Lancaster’s England who have not managed to beat the Boks in five Tests. The win at Twickenham is also the Boks’ fifth on the trot, and they will travel to next year’s World Cup in England with some great memories of this ground.
England – Tries: David Wilson, Ben Morgan, Brad Barritt. Conversions: Owen Farrell (2). Penalties: Farrell (2), George Ford.
Springboks – Tries: Jan Serfontein, Cobus Reinach, Schalk Burger. Conversions: Pat Lambie (2). Penalties: Lambie (3). Drop goal: Lambie.
England – 15 Mike Brown, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Brad Barritt, 12 Kyle Eastmond, 11 Jonny May, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Danny Care, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Chris Robshaw (c), 6 Tom Wood, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Dave Attwood, 3 David Wilson, 2 Dylan Hartley, 1 Joe Marler.
Subs: 16 Rob Webber, 17 Matt Mullan, 18 Kieran Brookes, 19 George Kruis, 20 Ben Morgan, 21 Ben Youngs, 22 George Ford, 23 Marlon Yarde.
Springboks – 15 Willie le Roux, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jan Serfontein, 12 Jean de Villiers (c), 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Pat Lambie, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Beast Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Bismarck du Plessis, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Coenie Oosthuizen, 19 Bakkies Botha, 20 Teboho Mohoje, 21 Francois Hougaard, 22 Handré Pollard, 23 Cornal Hendricks.
Photo: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images