England maintained their physicality and composure to beat the Springboks 37-21 on Saturday and end a 10-year winless streak, reports JON CARDINELLI at Twickenham.
Allister Coetzee’s side has added another unwanted record to its tally. After suffering historic defeats to Ireland and Argentina, and after losing to the All Blacks by a record score in Durban, Coetzee’s Boks have become the first South African side to lose to England in 10 years.
The English newspapers were saturated with boxing analogies in the buildup to this clash. Indeed, Eddie Jones himself compared it to the iconic ‘Rumble in the Jungle’.
Jones cast England in the role of Muhammad Ali, and the larger South Africans as the hard-hitting George Foreman. Jones felt that England would need to be smart as well as physical to win this heavyweight bout.
However, while England were quicker over the ground and smarter in terms of their strategy, they were also more physical over the course of the 80 minutes.
There were moments, particularly in the first quarter, where the likes of Willem Alberts, Pieter-Steph du Toit, and Eben Ezebeth delivered a brutal gainline showing to give the visitors some hope of an upset. It didn’t take long for England to respond, though, and to challenge the visitors’ belief.
Jonny May crossed for a try in the 11th minute, and Owen Farrell nailed a touchline conversion to send the hosts into the lead. England did well to secure the lineout and then to work the ball wide. May showed exceptional pace to beat the cover defence and finish.
Billy Vunipola and Courtney Lawes led the physical charge for the hosts. In fact, it was Vunipola who flattened Etzebeth in one of the game’s big turning points in the 31st minute.
Etzebeth clutched at his head after being checked by the abrasive England No 8. He was forced to leave the field to have his head injury assessed, and did not return. With him went the Boks’ chances of maintaining their brutal physical effort.
As the rain came down on Twickenham and England began to assert their authority, the partisan crowd found its voice. The Boks initiated a kicking duel, which played into England’s hands.
They started to win field position. Ben Youngs kicked from the base of the ruck, and these high balls were well chased by the England wingers and Vunipola. The Boks battled to diffuse these bombs, and it was a knock-on by JP Pietersen that allowed England to counter-attack and score their second try.
England kicked in behind the Bok defence, and Ruan Combrinck only succeeded in knocking the ball towards his own goal-line. Mike Brown jetted through and attempted to collect the loose ball, and when he missed it, Lawes was on hand to ground the ball over the tryline. A television review confirmed that Pat Lambie, in an attempt to stop Brown from scoring, had knocked the ball forward rather than Brown, and so the try stood.
Some excellent goal-kicking steered England to a 20-9 half-time lead. Elliot Daily sunk a penalty goal from 50m out. The Bok players’ heads dropped as they headed down the tunnel.
But the worst was yet to come. England kept the scoreboard ticking over through the unflappable Owen Farrell, who scored 19 points on the day. They continued to hammer into the collisions, and to stretch the Bok defence.
Youngs punched through a hole in midfield and then set up George Ford for a simple try. Youngs put Farrell through a gap in the 67th minute in similar fashion.
The ease with which England penetrated the Bok defence on both occasions was embarrassing. Of course, this was the same Bok side that had leaked nine tries and 57 points against the All Blacks just six weeks earlier.
Johan Goosen provided some magic for the Boks in the 59th minute, scoring a great try in the right-hand corner. Willie le Roux crossed the line in the final minute of the game to add some respectability to the scoreline.
But make no mistake, it was another limp attacking performance by the Boks. They failed to maintain their physical effort at the gainline. Their decision-making was abysmal and their execution shocking.
They will battle to finish the season with a win record in excess of 50%. They may beat Italy next week in Florence but, on the basis of the performance at Twickenham, they will be underdogs in the final tour fixture in Cardiff.
England – Tries: Jonny May, Courtney Lawes, George Ford, Owen Farrell. Conversions: Farrell (4). Penalties: Farrell (2), Elliot Daly.
Springboks – Tries: Johan Goosen, Willie le Roux. Conversion: Ruan Combrinck. Penalties: Pat Lambie (2). Drop goal: Lambie.
England – 15 Mike Brown, 14 Marland Yarde, 13 Elliot Daly, 12 Owen Farrell, 11 Jonny May, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Tom Wood, 6 Chris Robshaw, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley (c), 1 Mako Vunipola.
Subs: 16 Jamie George, 17 Joe Marler, 18 Kyle Winckler, 19 Dave Atwood, 20 Nathan Hughes, 21 Danny Care, 22 Ben Te’o, 23 Jonathan Joseph.
Springboks – 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Francois Venter, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Pat Lambie, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Willem Alberts, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Franco Mostert, 20 Nizaam Carr, 21 Faf de Klerk, 22 Johan Goosen, 23 Lionel Mapoe.
Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images