Test Match Review
South Africa vs England
16th June, 2018
Final Score: South Africa 23 – England 12.
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant Referees: Glen Jackson (New Zealand), Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
TMO: Simon McDowell (Ireland)
Somehow, when last weekend’s confrontational approach and off the ball niggle did not work, the English team thought it was worth another try in Bloemfontein. At Ellis Park the young Springboks were a little rattled early on, the occasion, the nerves, the crowd, the jitters, and the pace of the England game got to them as they quickly conceded a massive lead.
When the fightback started, and unable to match the Bok pace and style, England resorted to trying to intimidate the youngsters in green and gold. It did not work. Under the guidance and captaincy of Siya Kolisi, with Duane Vermeulen at his back, the Springboks held their nerve and simply disregarded England’s niggling tactics.
Quite why, a week later in Bloemfontein, England thought a confrontational approach would work at the second attempt escapes me.
As Einstein said, “Weak people revenge. Strong people forgive. Intelligent people ignore.”
The Springbok’s were vastly more intelligent at Ellis Park, they simply ignored. Bloemfontein reinforced their intelligence, and their strength as they did not go hunting for revenge after every jersey tug, shove in the back, late tackle, bump off the ball, no arms bash. They ignored the confrontational and aggressive shouting, the in-your-face posturing.
The game in Bloemfontein saw England repeat their attempts to disrupt the Springboks, and it again failed.
Another quote from Einstein is appropriate: “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
The game did start with a certain sense of déjà vu as England repeated their Ellis Park opening by surging into a 12-0 lead within 15 minutes of the kick-off.
Once again, it was the wide channels that were under scrutiny, and once again the lack of experience and the frailty of youth was apparent out on the wings.
It was not the nightmare of Ellis Park where England ran up a 24-3 lead in 20 minutes.
Both England tries came from Springbok errors, with the first coming after Faf de Klerk, who started a just little off his best, kicked the ball directly into touch for a line-out on England’s right. England went left with right wing Jonny May inside left wing Mike Brown. The Springbok right channel was open as Nkosi had drifted inwards, May gave Brown a perfect pass, and he had a free run to the Springboks’ line.
Just three minutes. Sbu Nkosi was pinged for a silly obstruction, the penalty led to a lineout, this time May had the overlap and he outstripped the cover defence to score. England led 12-0.
England capitalised on South African errors, and had a somewhat unearned lead on the score-board.
Yet again the Springbok had to play catch-up rugby. You cannot keep offering the opposition a two or three try lead before you kick into gear and start playing rugby.
However, it is worth considering, that once England had scored their 12 points in the first 15 minutes, they did not trouble the scoreboard again for the rest of the match.
They had their 15 minutes of fame, and then the Springboks fronted up, and slowly but surely took complete control of the game and wore England down with unrelenting focus.
England might have won some of the early battles, but once the Springbok machine had found its gears, the War was lost.
It was more than fitting that the Springbok machine that clicked into gear started with the centurion, Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira powering upfield with the ball in hand. Once he was brought down and the Bok support rolled in, the ball was recycled to Duane Vermeulen, who showed his enormous physical power and presence of mind to thunder over for his try.
The try took the wind out of England’s sails, and gave the Springboks the spark they needed to take control of the game.
England fought hard, focussing on getting as physically confrontational as possible, only to be met by the stony determination of the Springboks to match them every inch of the way. The bad blood boiled over on a couple of occasions, aided by the wayward thinking of the England captain, Owen Farrell, who seemed to forget his role as captain as he launched himself into every scuffle and hand-bag swinging moment he could find.
Then he inexplicably decided to adopt a confrontational attitude with the referee too. Romain Poite is no favourite of the South African crowds, he has made far too many very real mistakes to have enamoured himself with the locals, but Farrell’s attitude soon had his back up, at one stage he told Farrell “Don’t do that again!”
It was simply stupid tactics by Farrell, and it did not help his team one iota! Siya Kolisi came across as the cool, calm, collected and eminently reasonable captain whenever he spoke with Poite, in direct contrast to the in-your-face ranting on the English captain.
England prop Mako Vunipola was very fortunate to only concede a penalty after he was spotted administering a slap to the head of Pieter-Steph du Toit. He was sin-binned last weekend for a stupid late hit on Faf de Klerk, but appeared not to have learned from his indiscretion. On Saturday he was very lucky not to receive another 10 minute spell on the sidelines for that slap. Throughout his stay on the field he was guilty of constant niggling, with holding back, barging and jersey tugging seeming to be his forte.
Perhaps the cleverest move of the entire game belonged not to a player, but to a coach. When Rassie Erasmus decided to replace both starting props, sending on Kitshoff and Du Toit, the Springbok scrum simply demolished the England scrum, and the reward was a penalty try. The lead was out to 20 – 12, giving the Springboks some breathing room.
From that moment on the Springboks went into something of a maximum-force mode as they simply hammered the English ball carriers on defence.
England did have one more chance for a score, when England’s chip-butty-eating New Zealander Brad Shields dived for the line but lost the ball when Franco Mostert’s hand got in the way.
Once again, South Africa came from behind against England, this time to win 23-12 and clinch the three-Test series.
The win means that not only has the Springboks taken an unassailable two-nil lead in the series, but also it is England’s sixth-successive defeat of the year.
Another bonus from the win is that South Africa leapfrogged up the ranking tables from seventh to third, behind Ireland and the All Blacks.
Some Talking Points
Duane Vermeulen has a massive influence on the Springboks. His leadership and his guidance supporting Siya Kolisi, and the team in general, is invaluable. His experience, grit and determination cannot be underestimated. His captain, Siya Kolisi, and a number of his teammates have regularly spoken of his calming influence on the field when the side has come under pressure.
Handré Pollard is surely maturing into one of the better flyhalves in world rugby at the moment. His cool, calm game management is coupled to a willingness to take the ball into contact, to probe the defences himself while also getting his backline to go forward off the front foot. Tactical kicking is accurate and testing. His goal kicking is a bonus.
Faf de Klerk needs some support at 9. The man is as tough as teak. He simply shook off a head clash on Saturday, which reminded me of a similar incident in the Premiership game between his club, Sale Sharks and Wasps, when he knocked out both Dan Robson and Danny Cipriani as he bulldozed into them in the 80th minute of their game. He is a shorty, just 1,72m tall, and weighs in at 80kg. All the guts and willingness in the world, and that mythical “X” factor too.
But as tough as he is, South Africa need someone on the bench in the event of something happening to Faf. There are some youngsters in the pipeline, but they are green-horns with a long way to go before they are anywhere near international standard. Perhaps Cobus Reinach needs to be called up as a reserve?
Willie le Roux’s detractors of previous years must surely be eating their words. He is as steady a fullback under the high ball as any South Africa has seen in many a long time. Fearless too. His timing of the jump for one catch was simply sublime. His tactical kicking has developed into a pinpoint rapier while his ball carrying and distribution is as good as ever. He has an eye for the chance, and knows how to get the ball to the most effective runner in any given situation.
Damian de Allende somehow always has his detractors. Those that seem to think there are better options at 12. Not sure why? He was rock solid in defence, ever willing to have a go, a presence over the ball and at the tackle. Sure, he had the ball stripped in the tackle three times. That is simply a technicality that is easy to fix. He carries the ball Sevens style, with two hands, looking to take it over or through the tackle and then release it. England picked it up and went into the tackle looking to rip the ball. All he needs to do is bring the ball into his chest in the tackle, and away goes the problem.
Owen Farrell is a very good rugby player. When Eddie Jones handed him the captaincy after Dylan Hartley’s injury, it seemed a natural progression for the Saracens’ man.
Sadly, the appointment is something of a failure. Farrell has not stepped up as a leader, rather he has appeared to be the ultimate example of that thing the Australians dub a “Whinging Pom.” He did his fair share of shouting and snarling at opponents. He was in Romain Poite’s face, on one occasion aggressively pushing in front of Siya Kolisi to cut him off from the referee, complaining about someone asking for a yellow card. He also complained to Poite after 19 minutes, as South Africa were applying the pressure that led to their first try, that the Springboks were getting away with too much.
Ten minutes later, with the deficit down to two, he marched up to Poite again after a scuffle broke out to declare: “We’re trying to play rugby.” His timing was completely off as the match officials were in the process of reviewing the incident where Mako Vunipola slapped the face of the prone Pieter-Steph du Toit, in the same play where Maro Itoje had appeared to get away with an attempted kick at Faf de Klerk.
The louder and more aggressively Farrell got, the less Poite took note. The England captain was protesting again 10 minutes from the end, after conceding a penalty, but his words were simply ignored. Poite had reached saturation point with the England captain.
And then there was Farrell’s penchant for running into every scuffle and getting involved in the pushing and shoving. That is not what an international captain does!
The Smiles. The single most remarkable thing that I took note of in the game was the way the South African team smiled! The moments when they smiled when talking to each other. The rueful smiles as they apologised for a mistake. They even nodded and smiled when the ref said something. They smiled at the angry confrontations of the Englishmen. That is the sign of a happy team, one that is slowly, surely, starting to gel.
They will still lose games, that is certain. That is rugby.
The Springboks are still mere babies in terms of experience and tactical nous.
They are, without the shadow of a doubt, a Work-In-Progress.
They will stumble, they will fall.
But if they keep getting up and play with a smile, with enjoyment, they have it in them to go far.
Here are my Individual Player Ratings:
Individual Player Ratings
15 Willie le Roux: 7/10
Was a bit slow into the game, and lost his first aerial contest for the ball. He was also slightly out of position when England scored their first try. Got better and better as the clock ticked on. Did not miss another high ball, one was a beautifully timed jump. Made some really good tackles too. Not as influential as a week ago, but this was a different game, and it required different skills. Caused England some problems in the wider channels.
14 Sibusiso Nkosi: 5/10
Penalised for blocking, which was a rookie mistake. Missed Jonny May in the tackle. No fireworks this week, but solid enough once the nerves had settled. A couple of good runs although he was better shepherded by England this week. Good kick chasing.
13 Lukhanyo Am: 5/10
A couple of question marks about his decision making, especially on defence. Did make some good tackles, though. A few strong runs, but needs work on his distribution. A penalty for offside, and a couple of positional mistakes.
12 Damian de Allende: 7/10
Made some very good meters with the ball in hand, but has a technical problem of holding the ball out to take it over or through the tackle, rather than bringing it in to his chest once the tackle is made on him and he cannot get it away. England must have identified this last week as they worked on stripping the ball from him in contact. This is easily fixed. His ball carrying was very strong, with good leg drive. One superb break. Ran good angles and lines. Was enormous in defence, stopping backs or forwards with equal power. A constant presence at the breakdown.
11 Aphiwe Dyantyi: 5/10
Willing, with some good chases and a clever chip and chase to force the 5-meter scrum. A little wayward on defence early on, seemed to be following Lucky Am inwards rather than defending his own channel. Won a good turnover, and made some good tackles. No real chances with the ball in hand.
Handré Pollard: 7/10
Cool, calm, and growing better and better as the backline general. Controlled the game well, kept pressure on England throughout proceedings. Only black mark was one missed penalty. Huge 60-metre penalty just before half-time.
9 Francois de Klerk: 8/10
Made a couple of early mistakes, so this was not a flawless display, as he was not given the space and time he had a week ago. Soon figured out where the pressure was coming from and adapted his game. Good game management and control, again. Some very smart box-kicks and tactical nudges with the boot. Huge courage on defence.
8 Duane Vermeulen: 9/10
Easily the best player on the park. Hugely powerful on defence and attack. His calm influence cannot be overemphasised. He lets Kolisi captain and provides the leadership support that has been missing in Bok teams of the last two years. Great finishing for his try, but it is his huge physical presence and effort that makes him so influential.
7 Pieter-Steph du Toit: 8/10
Plenty of carries and huge on defence. Added the third option at the lineout, and has grown as one of the team’s leaders, with massive concertation and focus. Great support play, and disrupting England’s ball at the breakdown. Massive tackle count of 13. Missed one, and was close to a few tackles that he could just not reach, but that was because he tried to tackle where others might have let it go. Mako Vunipola did not like the massive tackle he took from P-S, which is probably why he decided to do a bit of facial massage on the big man.
6 Siya Kolisi: 7/10
Calm, assured, and high energy on defence, leading by example. Imposed discipline on his team when the English went off the rails a bit, following their captain’s example. Won a crucial turnover near England line. Ran good supporting lines and was often first to the clean out at the rusks. A good day at the office.
5 Franco Mostert:7/10
Industrious, as ever. Made life difficult for every white jersey that tried to carry the ball as he simply tackled everything that moved. His tackle on Shields prevented a certain try. A lock doing a lock’s job, well!
4 Rudolph RG Snyman: 6/10
After last week’s stellar debut he slipped back into a couple of his old habits. Got a bit too eager to get into the rough stuff when things boiled, but managed to restrain himself enough not to be the cause of the boil-overs. Gave away a couple of silly penalties, but did his fair share of the hard work. Disruptive at the English lineouts.
3 Frans Malherbe: 5/10
It is interesting to see how others rate his performance. I thought he had one poor scrum and after that he got the better of Vunipola. Obviously not quite on form yet, so his open field play is still a bit off the pace, but his lineout drives were very good. Good work around the fringes.
2 Mbongeni Mbonambi: 6/10
South Africa is lucky to have Bongi as a back-up to Malcolm Marx. He brought powerful physicality to the Bok defence and mauls and drives. Very good work-rate, and a beautiful 30-meter carry. Outstanding scrum, although I wondered how Poite pinged him for an “early engage” when it is almost impossible for a hooker to engage without his props?
1 Tendai Mtawarira: 7/10
A great break with the ball in hand, giving the impetus for Vermeulen’s try. Good, powerful carries and super work-rate. Plenty of carry metres. Well done thou good and faithful servant of rugby. You deserve every accolade that comes your way.
16 Armand van der Merwe: 6/10 (on for Mbonambi, 50th min):
One wobbly lineout which released some pressure on the English, but his bustling presence and work rate was great to watch as he flung himself into the game.
17 Steven Kitshoff: 7/10 (on for Mtawarira, 45th min):
It must be a bit of a psychological blow to opposition props when they look up and see the Big Ginger latching onto his hooker when he comes on. Just when you though the worst was over, a whole new level of hurt is coming at you. Huge influence, as usual. His power contributed to the Boks earning that penalty try. Carried the ball with purpose and power, and made a couple of massive hits.
18 Thomas du Toit: 6/10 (on for Malherbe, 45th minute):
Huge influence in the scrums, and supported well in the lineouts, but still seems hesitant to get involved in the rough stuff. His work rate needs to improve.
19 Jean-Luc du Preez: 5/10 (on for Snyman, 55th min):
Seems a little out of his depth at Test Match level. Just does not carry the ball with the same power or purpose as he does in Super Rugby, and struggles to impose himself on defence.
20 Sikhumbuzo Notshe: 5/10 (on for Kolisi, 65th min):
Just seemed a little lightweight as he tried to get into the game. Plenty of pace, but seems to lack the muscle to make an impact. He is better at the loose, open game than the tight hard stuff. Made a good tackle, and chased the ball, although a bit ineffectually.
21 Ivan van Zyl (on for De Klerk, 74th min):
Cameo appearance, not enough time for a rating.
22 Jesse Kriel: 5/10 (on for Am, 59th min):
Jesse seemed a little over-eager, which resulted in a couple of defensive mistakes, but his direct running brought some structure to the Springbok wide game. His partnership with De Allende needs to be rebuilt.
23 Warrick Gelant:
15 Elliot Daly: 5/10
Better than in Johannesburg. Was not caught out of position as easily. Rotated onto the wing well, creating the extra man. Joined the back line between Henry Slade and the wings, providing quick hands to put both wings away. Booted the ball straight into touch once, for a huge Springbok territorial gain.
14 Jonny May: 6/10
A great finisher, with great speed to outrun the South African defence for a try, Went looking for work off his wing, good kick chasing.
13 Henry Slade: 4/10
Made no impact on the game and his defence was narrow and often found wanting. Ran a couple of times but was stopped every time.
12 Owen Farrell: 3/10
Far too fired-up for a captain and game manager in the 12 role. Tried to take the aggression to the Springboks, and it detracted from his game. The ankle-tap on Damian de Allende saved a certain try. Too many mistakes, both as player and as captain.
11 Mike Brown: 6/10
Much better this week. Switched into the fullback position frequently during the game, allowing Daly the freedom to join the line. Better on defence than before. Made two try-saving tackles at fullback.
10 George Ford: 5/10
Shut down by the Springbok defenders, he had very little impact on the game. Was tested on defence, bounced off a couple of tackles. Kicked more, an obvious switch in tactics, but it was soon read by the Springboks, which robbed his tactical kicks of effectivity.
9 Ben Youngs: 5/10
Solid, not spectacular for England. Seemed off the pace and slow to play the ball. Better kicking game than the week before. Wasted a pass after a break in the second half.
8 Billy Vunipola: 4/10
Is he fit enough for international rugby? I guess the question becomes moot as he has again broken his arm and will be out for a while. Supposed to be England’s big muscular ball carrier, and he did have a couple of carries but was easily stopped. Missed some crucial tackles, including Duane Vermeulen who then went on to score. No magic, no influence, and no linking play. Simply a ball-carrying bulldozer who was stopped every time.
7 Tom Curry: 7/10
One great turnover on his line. Probably England’s best player on the day. Securing a couple of turnovers, contested the ball at the breakdown, and ran good lines on defence. Clash of heads with De Klerk saw blood but no lasting damage.
6 Brad Shields: 7/10
Understands South Africa’s game better than the rest of his team, which made him a nuisance at the breakdowns and in the loose. Slowed the ball down time and again, robbing the Springboks of momentum. Stole a lineout, grabbed an intercept. Stayed well out of the argy-bargy and never argued with the ref, about the only England jersey not to have a go with his mouth.
5 Maro Itoje: 4/10
Ill-disciplined, conceding two penalties, and still seemed focussed on doing damage to Faf de Klerk. That attempted kick was clumsy and stupid. Lucky to avoid sanction! More late bumps and barges. Good work in the lineouts, with 10 throws to him taken. He was also lucky to get away with a deliberate slap-down in a lineout. The moment he slapped the ball he turned to the referee indicating it was accidental, a dead giveaway that it was not!
4 Joe Launchbury: 6/10
The “quiet” man in the England pack, who played his heart out. Added some punch in attack and solidity in the scrums. Worked hard on the fringes, and carried the ball well. Seemed to run out of steam in the later stages.
3 Kyle Sinckler: 5/10
Struggled against Tendai Mtawarira and was simply shoved out of the game by Kitshoff. Not much success as a ball carrier, he did his job at the rucks and mauls. 5/10
2 Jamie George: 5/10
Better lineout throwing, better in the scrums too. Quiet game elsewhere. Better as an impact player rather than as a starter?
1 Mako Vunipola: 4/10
Not sure what the hype is all about? Earned a quick penalty off Frans Malherbe, but nothing more than that. His ball carrying was innocuous, and his off-the-ball stuff has become a distraction. Lucky not to see yellow for slapping Pieter-Steph du Toit’s head on the ground.
16 Luke Cowan-Dickie: 5/10
Not much to report. Accurate at the lineout, made a tackle, carried the ball. Nothing to add.
17 Joe Marler: 3/10
Nope, nothing to report. Did nothing in the scrums, nothing in the loose, and nothing elsewhere. One pass.
18 Harry Williams: 4/10
Struggled to live with Kitshoff. Period. Nothing else to report.
19 Mark Wilson
Not enough time to be rated.
20 Nathan Hughes: 4/10
Replaced Vunipola just before the halftime break, but made no difference. Spent a lot of time lying over or next to the ball in the rucks, and eventually saw a yellow for paying the ball on the ground at one of those rucks. Ineffectual with the ball in hand. Made some good tackles.
21 Ben Spencer
Not enough time to be rated.
22 Danny Cipriani: 6/10
Fifteen minutes that showed that he still has the hand-eye coordination and skills for which he is known. Quick hands and some meters with the ball in hand, but in an already lost cause.
23 Denny Solomona
Not enough time to be rated.
For South Africa:
Tries: Vermeulen, Penalty Try
Pens: Pollard 3
Tries: Brown, May
Yellow Card: Hughes
South Africa: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 S’busiso Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (c), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 RG Snyman, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Tendai Mtawarira
Replacements: 16 Akker van der Merwe, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Thomas du Toit, 19 Jean-Luc du Preez, 20 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 21 Ivan van Zyl, 22 Jesse Kriel, 23 Warrick Gelant
England: 15 Elliot Daly, 14 Jonny May, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Owen Farrell (c), 11 Mike Brown, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Tom Curry, 6 Brad Shields, 5 Maro Itoje, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Jamie George, 1 Mako Vunipola
Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Joe Marler, 18 Harry Williams, 19 Mark Wilson, 20 Nathan Hughes, 21 Ben Spencer, 22 Danny Cipriani, 23 Denny Solomona