Boks end their year on a high with ruthless victory over England
The Springboks finished a promising, imperfect, occasionally brilliant and frequently frustrating season with a swagger as they mauled England at Twickenham. England 13 (3) South Africa 27 (14)
Forget the 27-13 final scoreline as an indication of the state of the match. This was a much wider victory than that. Replacement prop Thomas du Toit’s needless red card in the 61st minute and late injuries to scrumhalf Faf de Klerk and captain Siya Kolisi allowed England to glean some respectability on the scoreboard.
The home side, though, were well beaten before the final quarter. This was the Springbok team of Yokohama, the Gold Coast and Mbombela. This was the Bok team of the eerie Cape Town Stadium in Tests two and three against the 2021 British & Irish Lions.
This was a muscular, ominous performance that wins World Cups. The Springboks spent 25 minutes softening England up and another 55 minutes picking them apart once the marination had been done.
The Boks have never been as consistent as the All Blacks but, when they hit a high, there is no side in the world that can live with them. England were simply blown off Twickenham’s emerald turf.
The Bok pack, those that started and those that finished, were at their cohesive, brutal best. Flank Franco Mostert epitomised the display with an indefatigable effort closely matched by rest.
It must be soul destroying as an opponent and thinking there is some relief as Ox Nche, Bongi Mbonabmi and Marvin Orie leave the field after they’ve hurt you, only to see Steven Kitshoff, Malcolm Marx and Kwagga Smith replacing them.
Behind the superb eight (or 13 in this case), scrumhalf Faf de Klerk underlined that he’s back to his buzzing best. His snappy service, smart tactical kicking and all-round intensity elevates the work of the pack.
After a first quarter in which both sides rained aerial kicks on each other, the Boks knew they had England where they wanted them. The home side were already creaking under the bombardment and the physicality they met at set piece and on the ground.
The Boks started winning the early scrums, easily snuffed out any England attempts to cross the gain line and were dominant in the air. They gradually turned up the heat on the England pack, heat which in turn rippled through England’s tepid backline play.
Well before Kurt-Lee Arendse’s spectacular opening try, the signs were there that England were on the brink of cracking. They barely contained the Bok maul while tighthead Frans Malherbe’s scrum work reshaped the England front row – and not in a good way.
Amazingly, after the Boks won the first scrum penalty of the match, the second went against Malherbe despite the fact that he’d buckled the unfortunate Mako Vunipola in half. No matter. The tone was set and the Boks marched menacingly on.
Owen Farrell and De Klerk swapped early penalties and at 3-3 there was a nagging sense that the Boks were not going to make their dominance count. It’s happened before. But this was a more clinical effort and there was no way the tourists, at the end of a gruelling international season, playing their 13th Test of the year, would let this one slip.
Flyhalf Damian Willemse slotted a casual drop-goal to edge the Boks ahead, which was the least they deserved. And it was about to become a lot better.
A minute later it was Willemse, on the edge of his 22, who swerved away from England fullback Freddie Steward and charged off. Fullback Willie le Roux ran an immaculate line on Willemse’s inside and Arendse, his scoring senses fully alerted, pilot-fished on the outside.
Willemse made a deft inside pass to Le Roux as scrumhalf Jack van Poortvliet came across in cover. Le Roux carried for 15 metres before throwing a perfectly timed pass to Arendse. The little wing still had 30 metres and a covering Marcus Smith to contend with.
He handled both with panache.
A little shimmy infield forced Smith to check his run for an instant, which in the alternative space/time continuum Arendse operates in, was the equivalent of 10 seconds and 10 metres. He simply jinked back towards the touchline with Smith nowhere near him and raced in unopposed for a great try.
Even the begrudging Twickenham crowd applauded the try, which, despite there being 47 minutes left to play, marked the point of no return for England.
De Klerk slotted another penalty before halftime and almost immediately after the break Willemse, now in full Jannie de Beer mode, landed a second drop-goal from nearly 40 metres out.
Within a few more minutes, England were down to 14 men with Tom Curry binned for collapsing a maul. From the ensuing penalty the Boks simply went back to a lineout and maul. And a few phases later the immense figure of Eben Etzebeth, who enjoyed another monumental Test, burrowed over under the crossbar for a try.
De Klerk landed another penalty and the Boks led 27-6 with a quarter of the game to play. Then came Du Toit’s moment of madness, which was needless and clumsy and, in another game, could have been costly.
Pressure on Jones
As it was, the lead was far too great and the performance of the Boks far too good for England to realistically come back. They managed a try from replacement centre Henry Slade eight minutes from time, but it was nothing more than a band aid in a seeping wound. The outcome had long since been terminal for England.
The result has heaped more pressure on England coach Eddie Jones after his team’s seventh loss in 12 Tests in 2022.
“We didn’t play well today, I apologise for that, it is entirely my fault and I take full responsibility,” Jones said. “We are judged by results, but I feel there is growth in the team which wasn’t evident today.
“I think it is a bit of a watershed game for us and we came into it with high expectations on how we wanted to play on the back of Japan and New Zealand. This game, South Africa were a bit too tough in the scrum and in the air and I know where we have to improve.
“You have to win contests against the Springboks and we didn’t win the air or the set piece. We lost two of the key contests and we have to improve in those areas.”
Man-of-the-match Mostert told a television interviewer afterwards: “It was a hard game but hats off to our forwards. We had some big conversations with each other this week and it paid off. If you lose by two points against Ireland or France, it is never good to lose, but you learn so much out of it. Hopefully we will do well next year.”
If the Boks produce performances like that consistently, there is no doubt about it. They will do extremely well next year. DM
England – Try: Henry Slade. Conversion: Owen Farrell. Penalties: Farrell (2).
South Africa – Tries: Kurt-Lee Arendse, Eben Etzebeth. Conversion: Faf de Klerk. Penalties: De Klerk (3). Drop-goals: Damian Willemse (2)