For six years between 2000 and 2006 England reigned supreme, winning all seven Tests against the Springboks. Since then it has been the other way round, the Boks going unbeaten in their last 10 clashes.
And, if Bok boss Heyneke Meyer is able to get his men up one more time this season, that number will move up to 11.
The key, of course, as Meyer pointed out this week, is whether his players can overcome the rigours of the most demanding season yet in South African rugby and get themselves up for another 80 minutes – the most important two 40-minute periods of the year in many ways.
The success of Meyer and the Boks will, to a large degree, will come down to how the team go on Saturday at Twickenham. A win against a somewhat out-of-sorts, under-pressure but fired-up England, to go with hard-fought wins against Ireland and Scotland, would make this European tour a big success. It would also mean Meyer and his team have lost only three times in 12 matches, a very good return considering what the coach has had to deal with this year.
Critics of the Boks’ fairly one-dimensional and unimaginative play this season have forgotten Meyer has had to build a team from absolute scratch this year. Seasoned campaigners who retired, other players who decided to play abroad and haven’t been available and an injury list as long as the Great Wall meant Meyer hardly had a core group to work with and he’s spent the better part of the last 11 Tests trying to find the right combinations, style and understanding in the team, while at the same time he’s been under huge pressure to win, and in style.
It has been a big ask for Meyer and his Boks, and considering the cards he was dealt with this season, finishing the year with just three defeats, two of those against the World Champions and arguably one of the best squads to have played the game, New Zealand, would not be a bad return. And let’s not forget, had the Boks kicked better at goal in Dunedin earlier this year they would have won that game, so there have been mitigating factors.
What the Boks, though, need on Saturday is an 80-minute effort, something they’ve yet to produce on this tour. They played well in the second half against Ireland and they dominated in the first 40 against Scotland last week. They were able to get away with those two “half-efforts”, mainly because they defended so well in both games but also because, well, let’s be honest, it was Ireland and Scotland.
But England, a side hurt by stinging criticism in the week after their defeat to Australia, won’t allow the Boks to get away with only playing for a half.
The full potential of this Bok team, with arguably some of the best players in the world right now, in Adriaan Strauss, Eben Etzebeth and Francois Louw, need to come to the fore at Twickenham. And to do so, the backs need to get in on the act.
Meyer’s forwards have been brilliant on this tour, laying a sound foundation, but it’s the likes of Ruan Pienaar, Pat Lambie, Jean de Villiers and Juan de Jongh – all outstanding ball-players and men capable of sowing havoc for opposition defences – who need to come good.
They’ll be provided the front foot ball, the likes of Strauss, Duane Vermeulen and Willem Alberts will take care of that ... they just need to back themselves and execute. So, if the backs can match the potency of the forwards, then we may just be in for something special. Let’s hope the players can get up one more time for 80 minutes – and cap a difficult 2012 with something to really cheer about. – The Star
England: Alex Goode, Chris Ashton, Manu Tuilagi, Brad Barritt, Mike Brown, Toby Flood, Ben Youngs, Ben Morgan, Chris
Robshaw (capt), Tom Wood, Geoff Parling, Joe Launchbury, Dan Cole, Tom Youngs, Alex Corbisiero. Replacements: David Paice, David Wilson, Mako Vunipola, Mouritz Botha, James Haskell, Danny Care, Owen Farrell, Jonathan Joseph
South Africa: Zane Kirchner, JP Pietersen, Juan de Jongh, Jean de Villiers (capt), Francois Hougaard, Pat Lambie, Ruan Pienaar, Duane Vermeulen, Willem Alberts, Francois Louw, Juandré Kruger, Eben Etzebeth, Jannie du Plessis, Adriaan Strauss, Gurthrö Steenkamp.
Replacements: Schalk Brits, Heinke van der Merwe, Pat Cilliers, Flip van der Merwe, Marcell Coetzee, Elton Jantjies, Jaco Taute, Lwazi Mvovo.
SA v ENGLAND AT TWICKENHAM (since 1992)
November 14, 1992 England 33 – South Africa 16
November 18, 1995 England 14 – South Africa 24
November 29, 1997 England 11 – South Africa 29
December 5, 1998 England 13 – South Africa 8
December 2,2000 England 25 – South Africa 17
November 24, 2001 England 29 – South Africa 9
November 23, 2002 England 53 – South Africa 3
November 20, 2004 England 32 – South Africa 16
November 18, 2006 England 23 – South Africa 21
November 25, 2006 England 14 – South Africa 25
November 22, 2008 England 6 – South Africa 42
November 27, 2010 England 11 – South Africa 21