England, despite a three-point scoreline, were never in this Test. Kudos the bruising Boks, writes MARK KEOHANE at Twickenham.
The Boks were monsters in the collisions – and England, man for man, looked petrified in the first 30 minutes to take the ball into contact.
England enforcers Courtney Lawes and Billy Vunipola were made to look like Premiership club rugby bullies. There was more stagger than swagger about them at Twickenham as the Boks smashed them in the collisions and had every English forward offloading the ball as a first option instead of taking on the Bok defence.
The Boks played a simple game at Twickenham and relied on their physicality to suffocate England into submission, that if slow was still sufficient to never be troubled.
The Boks led 10-0 after the first quarter and 20-6 within two minutes of the restart. England, in a three-minute period, pulled back 14 points with two rolling maul tries, effected from lineout drives.
But the big but was that England did this with the Boks down to seven forwards after Victor Matfield was binned for collapsing the maul from an England lineout. The decision was the right one as referee Steve Walsh had warned both captains that a yellow card would follow the next collapsed maul.
The Boks, without the ball, were never troubled and all that bothered them was defending the lineout when seven played eight.
Defence wins World Cups and defence is a safer haven than attack in must-win situations.
England were made to look decidedly impotent on attack because of the magnificent defence of the Boks. Jean de Villiers, in the defensive management, was world class and individually every South African simply made a mess of any England attacker.
The English scored late to add respectability to the scoreline, as they did a week ago against the All Blacks. But there is a gulf between England and the top two teams in the world.
I expected England to be stronger and to start better. I have been at Twickenham before when some of the best visiting teams have struggled to stay with England in the opening quarter. Not so on Saturday, and that's down to the imposing and unrelenting defence of the Boks.
England, in that opening quarter, operated with all the ball but it was so far behind the gainline it was all to the Boks’ advantage. The result was a converted Jan Serfontein try and a 10-point cushion that also showed all England’s attacking limitations.
England did not have the game or the attacking individuals to create much with possession that also reads statistically better than the quality of this ball.
England will talk about positives and coming close but it’s all a delusion. They were as far off against the Boks, as they were against the All Blacks a week ago.
Stuart Lancaster now has two wins in 15 against the southern hemisphere big three and this was England’s 12th successive match without victory against the Boks.
Twickenham is no fortress for England when it comes to playing South Africa and New Zealand. It’s one England win from the last 10 against the world’s top two.
There will be criticism of the Bok attack and of De Villiers’s decision to continue with kicking to the corner and not taking easy points on offer. The criticism will be valid.
Yet in the context of the season – and the aberration that was last week in Dublin – this was a must win for the Boks and the boys in green and gold reverted to what they know best to fashion the win.
The brutality was beautiful if you are a romantic of the collisions and the simplicity was something to savour.
The Boks showed they could create and score, as with Cobus Reinach’s try. But Saturday was about defence, with Schalk Burger colossal, and there is no team in the world that does that better than the brutal Boks.
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