Springboks / 13 November 2016, 12:59pm / Ashfak Mohamed
Cape Town – The Springboks had just one job to do at Twickenham on Saturday – play “10-man rugby” – and yet Allister Coetzee’s uninspiring group of men were unable to do even that.
The decline of South African rugby, and the Boks in particular as a respected opponent in the global game, was laid bare at the home of rugby when Eddie Jones’ smarter, more streetwise England side dominated the physical battle and added just enough pizzazz to romp home 37-21.
Once again the Bok defence was all over the place, with the lack of organisation sometimes reaching embarrassing proportions for a tier-one international side. Players seemed unsure of where they needed to stand in the line, and a large part of the problem was due to selection.
Coetzee’s decision to pick Willem Alberts at openside flank and Pieter-Steph du Toit at blindside backfired, as they were ineffective as ball-carriers, didn’t slow down England’s breakdowns, and were liabilities in defence.
The basic tenets of a conservative approach requires the pack to dominate and have a smooth operating set-piece, a scrumhalf who is accurate with his box-kicks and wings who can chase it, a flyhalf who can drive the opposition backwards, and a back-three who can handle the high ball.
And on all but one of those fronts, the Boks failed miserably.
The scrum was quite strong and the lineout not far behind, but other than that, the South Africans hardly tested the English. The old tactic of one-off runners was back, and Jones’ behemoths – such as No 8 Billy Vunipola – were just waiting to drive the Boks back.
There was virtually no variation from Coetzee’s team, until it was too late when replacement flyhalf Johan Goosen tried to inject some life into his leaden-footed teammates in the second half.
The defensive errors proved costly as early as the 11th minute when a simple wrap-around move off a 22m lineout saw wing Marland Yarde unmarked as he streaked clear, and he fed wing Jonny May to finish in the left-hand corner.
That saw England take the lead after Patrick Lambie kicked an early penalty and drop goal, but up to that point, the Boks’ forwards were providing enough grunt to keep them in the game.
But the Boks didn’t know what to do with their possession, and just to prove the depth of their lack of ambition, inside centre Damian de Allende inexcusably chipped the ball away just outside the England 22 in the 25th minute when they had generated some momentum with ball-in-hand.
A few seconds later, Willie le Roux kicked the ball out on the full despite being in space when claiming an England punt, but there was no way he was going to venture a counter-attack.
Billy Vunipola showed just how powerful he is when he knocked Eben Etzebeth back inside the Bok 22, and the No 4 lock didn’t recover and went off. It robbed South Africa of some much-needed physicality, but Etzebeth’s presence wouldn’t have changed the final result.
As if the Boks’ defensive errors weren’t enough to deal with, JP Pietersen dropped a simple high ball which England kicked downfield, and then fellow wing Ruan Combrinck failed to gather the loose ball, which was hacked forward and Courtney Lawes fell on it to score.
That was a crucial moment in the game, and another penalty before halftime by Owen Farrell put them 20-9 ahead.
It didn’t take Jones’ team long to secure the outcome after the break, as scrumhalf Ben Youngs dummied past Du Toit around the ruck to feed flyhalf George Ford for England’s third try.
Late tries from Goosen and Le Roux added some respectability to the final score, but that was not a true reflection of the game.
Coetzee has spoken in recent weeks about wanting to embrace a more positive style of play, and holding on to the ball a bit more, but that was clearly a smokescreen designed to try and fool Jones.
But the wily Australian is far too astute to fall for that trick, and his knowledge of the South African psyche and in particular Coetzee’s mindset was clear to see. Jones instructed his pack to win the fight upfront, while his backs were always going to prove too hot to handle for their bland opponents. England didn’t even need to get out of third gear to get the better of these Boks.
Hopefully Coetzee will realise after this harrowing display that he really needs to broaden his worldview on the way forward. Otherwise things could get even uglier over the next two weeks in Italy and Wales.