The Springboks made a massive physical statement as they claimed a 23-12 comeback win over England on Saturday. CRAIG LEWIS reports from Bloemfontein.
England clearly came into this clash looking to disrupt the Boks with a confrontational approach and some off-the-ball tactics. Yet, for every spiteful England snarl, the Boks responded with a growl of their own.
In particular, Duane Vermeulen was immense as he embodied the Marvel superhero Thor – after whom he is nicknamed – while the impact of the Boks’ substitutes effectively swung the game in favour of the hosts in the second half.
The upshot is that the Boks have powered into an unassailable 2-0 series lead.
There had been a horrible sense of deja vu for the Boks in the opening 15 minutes as England once again exposed space out wide, with wings Mike Brown and Jonny May both going over to score and send the visitors into a 12-0 lead.
Pause for a moment to consider that England did not score again.
It wasn’t quite the 24-3 nightmare start of Ellis Park last Saturday, but after a lacklustre opening quarter from the Boks, it was perfectly fitting that a barnstorming break from Test centurion Beast Mtawarira eventually sparked the team into life.
After Mtawarira had powered into the opposition 22, the ball was recycled to Vermeulen, who showed tremendous strength to barge over for the Boks’ opening try just as England looked to be establishing their ascendancy in the physical exchanges.
The opening half of the uncompromising clash had also been filled with plenty of bad blood, which degenerated into more than one scuffle, while England prop Mako Vunipola was very fortunate to only concede a penalty after he was spotted administering an open-hand slap to the head of Pieter-Steph du Toit.
Yet, just as the Boks had managed to do in Johannesburg, they manufactured a lead before the break as Handré Pollard slotted two well-taken shots at goal as England’s penalty count rose to seven.
Early on in the second half, Bok coach Rassie Erasmus made the bold selection call to replace both starting props, but the reward was a penalty try as the Springbok forwards demolished the England pack from a 5m scrum.
The automatic seven-pointer sent the Boks out into a handy 20-12 lead, and perhaps as an ode to Mtawarira, the home side then went into beast mode on defence, with this work in the collisions effectively earning another crucial penalty in the 67th minute.
Pollard duly slotted his third three-pointer, and from there the Boks never looked like losing as they ensured that Mtawarira’s milestone and a series win could be celebrated in style.
Springboks – Tries: Duane Vermeulen, penalty try. Conversions: Handré Pollard. Penalties: Pollard (3).
England – Tries: Mike Brown, Jonny May. Conversion: Owen Farrell.
Springboks – 15 Willie le Roux, 14 S’bu Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (c), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 RG Snyman, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Beast Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Akker van der Merwe, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Thomas du Toit, 19 Sikumbuzo Notshe, 20 Jean-Luc du Preez, 21 Ivan van Zyl, 22 Jesse Kriel, 23 Warrick Gelant.
England – 15 Elliot Daly, 14 Jonny May, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Owen Farrell (c), 11 Mike Brown, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Tom Curry, 6 Brad Shields, 5 Maro Itoje, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Jamie George, 1 Mako Vunipola.
Subs: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Joe Marler, 18 Harry Williams, 19 Mark Wilson 20 Nathan Hughes, 21 Ben Spencer, 22 Danny Cipriani, 23 Denny Solomona.
Photo: Gordon Arons/Gallo Images