Duane Vermeulen’s titanic display at the collisions as well as the performance of the Springbok bench was the difference in their series-clinching win, writes JON CARDINELLI at Free State Stadium.
England came into this match spoiling for a fight. More often than not, they found what they were looking for when a spirited Bok side, from the terrier-like Faf de Klerk to the hulking and battle-hungry Vermeulen, showed a willingness to engage.
The match at Free State Stadium wasn’t a classic in the sense that both teams were guilty of far too many attacking and defensive errors. The Bok outside backs were exposed in the early stages – as they were at Ellis Park last week – whenever England moved the ball to the wider channels.
As was the case in the first Test, the Boks showed an ability to roll with the punches. They stuck to their plan, applying the pressure through the forwards and through the accurate kicking of their halfbacks. They managed to finish the half with a 13-12 lead.
Vermeulen’s try in the 24th minute was one of the turning points. England absorbed a lot of pressure in the build-up to that score; that was until the centurion, Beast Mtawarira, provided the impetus for the hosts with a fantastic linebreak.
The Boks weren’t especially clinical in recycling the ball after Mtawarira was caught. Fortunately for the hosts, Vermeulen had enough individual strength, and evidently enough pace and agility, to cross the tryline. It was an example of a big-name player coming up with a crucial play to ensure that his side got the points.
Special mention should go to Handré Pollard. The flyhalf came in for criticism last week after he pushed several shots wide of the target. On this occasion, Pollard converted four of his five attempts on goal. They will be talking about that 58m effort at the end of the first half – a monster penalty that handed the Boks the lead – for a long, long time.
The timing of Rassie Erasmus’ substitutions were also crucial to the Boks’ success. The first half was a brutal scrap, with neither side really gaining the ascendancy at the scrums, lineouts and breakdowns. The introduction of Steven Kitshoff and Thomas du Toit early in the second stanza paid dividends, with the Boks driving England back at the set piece and earning a penalty try.
Reserve hooker Akker van der Merwe was influential on defence, helping the Boks withstand an England drive later in the half. Jean-Luc du Preez won a breakdown penalty in the 67th minute, and Pollard slotted the three-pointer to extend the hosts’ lead to 23-12.
This Bok side is not the finished article, though. There is much to rectify on attack and defence before the third Test, and indeed the subsequent Rugby Championship.
What would have pleased Erasmus, however, was the composure shown by his charges at key moments, and the manner in which the senior players stood up.
Photo: Johan Pretorius/Gallo Images