Cape Town – There was a moment early in the second half at Twickenham on Saturday that proved once more that Springbok centre Damian de Allende is at the top of his game at the moment.
Kwagga Smith had burst up the middle into England’s half, and South Africa spread the ball wide through Handré Pollard and then Willie le Roux, who threw a wonderful skip pass in front of Lukhanyo Am and into the path of De Allende.
The Bok No 12 ran on to the ball from deep, and instead of putting his head down and trying to run into an opponent – which was often the case in the British and Irish Lions series earlier this year – De Allende first stepped inside and out to send England wing Jonny May into a twist, and then he got his hands through the tackle of scrumhalf Ben Youngs to deliver a sumptuous back-handed offload to captain Siya Kolisi.
Unfortunately for the Bok No 6, wing Jesse Kriel had just over-run the skipper’s perfectly-timed pass, which would have resulted in a try in the corner.
It wasn’t to be, but that passage of play showed just how much confidence De Allende has in his game, and the extent to which South Africa’s attacking game has progressed on the end-of-year tour.
De Allende did a similar thing last week against Scotland, and that time Makazole Mapimpi scored. The Bok left wing did benefit from good work from his inside backs at Twickenham, with Lukhanyo Am flinging the ball wide before a defender got to him.
The world champions went down 27-26 to England following a last-minute Marcus Smith penalty, but De Allende – who earned his 58th Test cap – feels that the Bok attack has improved in 2021.
“We did score a nice try tonight… Mapimpi scored it in the corner. I think we have grown. We need to adapt with how the laws are changing, and people want attractive rugby. I still think the way we play to our systems is very good, and that gives us opportunities to get the ball into the wider channels,” the 29-year-old said afterwards.
“We’ll keep on improving on our skill-sets in the wider channels, and when there are opportunities… There were a lot of opportunities tonight that we didn’t take on the field, and I think when we watch this game again, we’ll see that and know that we just need to execute a lot better.
“I think we are on the right path. Our decision-making is getting a lot better, and we are playing a lot more within ourselves, and not just relying on the system. And I think that is where we are growing as a squad, and hopefully we will grow even more next year, when we play together again – and I’m looking forward to it.”
England’s own attack took on a different shape after they lost powerhouse centre Manu Tuilagi early on, as he was injured in the act of scoring a try.
Max Malins came on at right wing, with No 14 Joe Marchant moving into his preferred outside centre spot and Henry Slade shifting from No 13 to inside centre.
De Allende was impressed by how Eddie Jones’ team were able to outmanoeuvre the much-vaunted Bok defence to score three tries.
The last touchdown saw De Allende also caught trying to assist Elton Jantjies in defence, but in doing that, he left a huge hole for Marchant to fly through, ending in Raffi Quirke racing over.
“After they lost Manu (Tuilagi) – he’s an exceptional player, and he’s quite direct and very strong with ball-in-hand – they had three playmakers on the field and they got width quite nicely. I don’t think we adjusted well enough to that, but credit to them,” the Munster midfielder said.
“When you try to go wide-wide in a game, or try to get into the wider channels, you have to execute and have very good passes and execute that skill, and they did that well tonight. So, credit to them.
“We will have a good look at this game when we are together again, or probably tomorrow sometime, and then obviously we will have to learn from what they did on the field today. The way they did it was pretty good, and I felt they got behind us quite easily with their plan. So, we will have a good look at it, and hopefully we can improve the next time we meet them.
“They were exceptional tonight. I thought they took their opportunities a lot better than what we did, and I think we left a few points out there. That’s Test-match rugby – If you don’t take your points or your opportunities at the right time, you fall short… and that’s what happened at the end of the game.
“It’s been a massive year, and we’ve been in and out of bubbles. I think the most I will take out of the year is memories. We had to create new memories together as a squad, and even the loss tonight was… It was very sad in the change-room afterwards, but we have a lot to celebrate this year.
“We’ve had a lot of challenges and things like that, but I know as a squad, we can look on the year and hold our heads up high, and smile at the memories we’ve made.”