What a match, what a performance! The spiritual home of Springbok rugby just doesn’t disappoint.
A scratch Bok team might have gone down to Wales in Washington last week to kickstart the Rassie Erasmus era, but the first-choice men lived up to their billing last night as they fought back to win a thrilling, never-to-be-forgotten Test match against Eddie Jones’s powerful England outfit.
The near-capacity Ellis Park crowd saw some of the finest Bok rugby – in the final 20 minutes of the first half – played in a very long time, and they also saw a new-look team, led by Siya Kolisi, play with spirit, hunger, passion and pride.
There were star performances by several Boks, but rookie wings S’bu Nkosi and Aphiwe Dyantyi, scrumhalf Faf de Klerk, No8 Duane Vermeulen and new lock RG Snyman were outstanding in giving their team direction, pace and the X-factor.
In a quite extraordinary first half England raced into a 24-3 lead after scoring three tries to a sole penalty by the Boks and looked to be on their way to spoiling one of South African rugby’s biggest days.
But a late first-half rally by the home team saw them do the near unthinkable and not only catch the visitors but soar past them with some outstanding tries of their own.
England’s Mike Brown, Elliot Daly and Owen Farrell crossed the try-line in an opening spell that would have had the most optimistic Bok fan worried and wondering how much England were going to score on the day. They dominated the collisions, spread the ball wide and found acres of space at the back; the home team’s defence nowhere to be seen.
But it wasn’t only the rushing up and in from the wings that allowed England’s backs to have a field-day, individuals also missed one on one tackles; and flyhalf Handre Pollard won’t want to see his missed effort when Brown scored early on.
But just when it seemed as if the only fireworks the Bok fans would see where those that were shot into the night sky before kick-off, they hit back - and in some fashion.
On the 20-minute mark, De Klerk showed great strength to stretch out his arm to dot the ball over the tryline after Nkosi had been stopped short to give the Boks hope, and 10 minutes later it was Nkosi’s turn to get a first Test try. After his forwards had taken the ball through phases, he kicked it ahead and dotted down after Daly had missed the rolling ball.
The conversion got the Boks to within nine points and that gap closed to two minutes later when Nkosi got his second, after the ball had again been spread wide quickly and Dyantyi has done excellently to flip the ball inside for his wing partner.
The fightback was completed two minutes from half-time when Willie le Roux showed pace to finish off another quickly spread ball by the players on his inside.
It was a remarkable few minutes by the Boks, who turned around a 21-point deficit in 20 minutes to lead by two at the break. The second 40 was hardly as spectacular as the first, but the Boks, with momentum behind them and their confidence growing by the minute, powered on.
With bench-men Steven Kitshoff, Thomas du Toit, Akker van der Merwe and Pieter-Steph du Toit on, the home team continued to pile on the pressure up front and ask questions at the back.
The Boks were rewarded for their efforts, but Pollard missed two shots at goal, converting one other, but Dyantyi’s well-taken converted try on 65 minutes saw the Boks into a 12-point lead.
And while England did manage to cross the try-line again, through Maro Itoje and Jonny May in the final 10 minutes, a Pollard penalty sandwiched in between ensured the Boks hung on for the win - and a famous, famous victory.
As much as the day belonged to Kolisi coincidentally at the very same stadium and in the same number jersey worn by the late Nelson Mandela on that memorable day 23 years ago when the Boks won the World Cup, this was a victory for the ages.
It was the new faces like wing and two try hero Sibusiso Nkosi along with his fellow debutants lock RG Snyman, Aphiwe Dyantyi, who also scored a try, and live wire scrumhalf Faf de Klerk that will give the Springboks hope in the two remaining matches of the series.