The England Saxons beat South Africa A 32-24 in Bloemfontein on Friday after leading 22-3 at the break. SIMON BORCHARDT reports.
SA A were their own worst enemies at the Free State Stadium. In a nightmare first half, they conceded seven turnovers in open play from which the Saxons scored three tries.
The hosts' bench sparked a second-half fightback that saw them trail 25-24 with eight minutes to go, but the Saxons' fourth try put the result beyond doubt.
This was a match SA A could have won had they played smarter rugby. Considering they had only been together as a team for a few days, their high-risk approach was baffling. In contrast, the Saxons played pragmatic rugby and punished their opponents' errors.
It won't be a surprise if SA A coach Johann Ackermann opts to start the seven players who were on the bench on Friday in the second clash between these teams in George, such was the impact they made when they came on to the field.
Some of those who did start may have played themselves out of the team. Howard Mnisi, in particular, was poor, with two of his handling errors in the first half costing his team two tries. Garth April was also disappointing at flyhalf and was replaced early in the second half by Francois Brummer.
The starting SA A player who enhanced his Bok credentials the most was flanker Sikhumbuzo Notshe, who was excellent with ball in hand and scored his side's third try.
SA A will look back on the first 40 minutes of this match with regret.
They created the first try-scoring chance when Nizaam Carr did well to get the ball away from a scrum to Nic Groom, who kicked downfield. The hosts regained possession but, with men on his outside, April took the wrong option by putting boot to ball. The flyhalf was successful with a long-range penalty goal soon after, but his team then self-destructed.
On the 15-minute mark, Mnisi lost possession inside opposition territory, which allowed Nick Tompkins to counter-attack. He found Danny Cipriani, with the flyhalf being brought to ground 5m from the tryline. The Saxons got quick ruck ball and sent it wide to Alec Hepburn, who dotted down for the try. Cipriani kicked the conversion and added a penalty to make it 10-3.
The visitors' second and third tries also came from turnovers. Oupa Mohoje took the ball to ground on the Saxons' 22m line and lost possession. Semesa Rokoduguni kicked over Leolin Zas's head, collected the ball just short of the line and dived over. Another knock-on from Mnisi just inside the Saxons' 22 then resulted in a try for Dan Robson, who danced his way around Zas and Francois Venter to make it 22-3 after 33 minutes.
That prompted Ackermann to make five substitutions early in the second half, with Malcolm Marx, Lizo Gqoboka, Coenie Oosthuizen, RG Snyman and Francois Brummer all coming on. Soon after, Brummer scored a converted try with his first touch of the ball to reduce the deficit to 12 and give the hosts' hope.
Cipriani kicked his second penalty for the Saxons, before SA A scored their second try through another substitute, Piet van Zyl, that made it 25-17.
With 10 minutes remaining, the hosts took a quick lineout throw inside their 22 and sent the ball wide to Notshe, whose chip kick was collected by Travis Ismaiel. The winger found Mohoje, who put Notshe away for a converted try that narrowed the gap to one.
But the Saxons finished strongly, with a late converted try from Ollie Devoto securing the win.
South Africa A – Tries: Francois Brummer, Piet van Zyl, Sikhumbuzo Notshe. Conversions: Brummer (3). Penalty: Garth April.
England Saxons – Tries: Alec Hepburn, Semesa Rokoduguni, Dan Robson, Ollie Devoto. Conversions: Danny Cipriani (3). Penalties: Cipriani (2).
South Africa A – 15 Leolin Zas, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Francois Venter, 12 Howard Mnisi, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Garth April, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Oupa Mohoje (c), 6 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 JD Schickerling, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Scarra Ntubeni, 1 Thomas du Toit.
Subs: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Lizo Gqoboka, 18 Coenie Oosthuizen, 19 RG Snyman, 20 Jean-Luc du Preez, 21 Piet van Zyl, 22 Francois Brummer, 23 Lukhanyo Am.
England Saxons – 15 Mike Haley, 14 Semesa Rokoduguni, 13 Nick Tompkins, 12 Ollie Devoto, 11 Alex Lewington, 10 Danny Cipriani, 9 Dan Robson, 8 Sam Jones, 7 Matt Kvesic, 6 Don Armand, 5 Charlie Ewels, 4 Dave Attwood (c), 3 Kieran Brookes, 2 Tommy Taylor, 1 Alec Hepburn.
Subs: 16 George McGuigan, 17 Ross Harrison, 18 Jake Cooper-Woolley, 19 Mitch Lees, 20 Dave Ewers, 21 Micky Young, 22 Sam James, 23 Christian Wade.
Photo: Johan Pretorius/Gallo Images