Test Match Review
South Africa vs England
9th June, 2018
Final Score: South Africa 42 – England 39.
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Romain Poite (France), Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
TMO: Simon McDowell (Ireland)
Test match rugby is supposed to be exciting stuff. It is supposed to be enthralling, tense, and entertaining. It is supposed to represent the top end of the game of rugby.
And that is exactly what South Africa and England served up on Saturday afternoon for 55 000 spectators at Ellis Park, and a couple of million more that watched the game on television.
This was a game that served up equal quantities of agony and ecstasy, for the fans of both teams.
The Agony of the first 20 minutes as South African supporters felt their hopes and expectations sinking back into the dark abyss of the Allister Coetzee years. The Ecstasy for England supporters as they saw their team produce a superb, slick, accurate and pacey first 20 minutes, a stretch of play that banished the memories of the 2018 6-Nations and that woeful warm-up against the Barbarians.
And then the tension as the young Springboks found their game, found their focus, and stepped up a gear, and then another gear, and produced one of Test rugby’s remarkable fightbacks. The Agony and Ecstasy Reversed.
It was one of the great sporting comebacks, with South Africa somehow recovering from a 24-3 deficit to put five tries past England.
If the rest of the three-Test series is even half as entertaining, it will be unmissable!
Eddie Jones might suggest that altitude had nothing to do with England running into something of a brick wall after their superb first 20 minutes, and he might be correct. Visiting teams tend to feel the altitude in the last 20 minutes of a game, not from the second 20 minute phase.
What must be worrying Eddie though, was the inability of his team to maintain the pace of the game for longer than that first 20 minutes.
Yes, there was indiscipline, and yes, there were inaccuracies and soft moments, but the real truth is that the England collective were unable to stay with the pace of the southern hemisphere game for the full 80.
Super Rugby might be in some serious trouble from so many different points of view, but it is still a faster paced competition than that served up in the north, and it prepares players for the arduous task of maintaining the pace of the game for the full 80 minutes.
I may be wrong, but that lack of a fast paced domestic game seems to be at the root of the England team’s inability to win the game after they had run up what seemed an unassailable lead in those first 20 minutes of rugby.
Eddie Jones does not easily acknowledge his mistakes, but I do believe that he made a couple of fundamental mistakes in the lead up to this test match. First and foremost, choosing to base his team in Durban, at sea level and where humidity levels in June average around 75%, while preparing for two test matches to be played at altitude on consecutive weekends is probably a mistake. Humidity in Johannesburg averages 21% in June, while Johannesburg is also some 4C cooler on average.
Basing your team in the balmy winter weather of Durban is not the ideal preparation for playing in Johannesburg or Bloemfontein.
Playing Mike Brown, a full back, out on the wing was not a great success against the Barbarians, why repeat the experiment against South Africa?
Insisting on the selection of Brad Shields straight into his England Test squad, when Shields had not even played a club match in England, ever, must surely be questioned. Never mind the moral objection, the message to his own squad of players must be “You lot are not good enough, I am bringing in an All Black…..” As a coach you need to show your team that you trust them and believe in them, always, and Eddie is not doing that………….
And then to select Shields on the bench as a 2nd row replacement rather than as the flanker that he is, must surely also be questioned. Why bother?
A last question that must be asked of Eddie – What is happening with your team’s defensive alignment? Eleven tries in two games is more than a bit of a worry, surely. It is not individual mistakes and indiscipline, it is a team effort that is going wrong.
There are also some questionable tactics that need to be discussed.
It was evident, fairly early on, that England were targeting Faf de Klerk for a bit of attention and rough treatment.
I picked up the off-the-ball moments early on and after a couple, started to make some notes. In the 11th minute it was Chris Robshaw with a late tackle on Faf de Klerk. In the 27th minute it was a shove in the back by Henry Slade, in the 31st minute it was Itoje with a late tackle, all of the above unseen and unpunished….. and so it continued. Mako Vunipola made two off-the-ball tackles, one a head cruncher bordering on a card-worthy incident if the officials had picked it up. Maro Itoje kept up a constant harassment of the scrumhalf, despite being pinged for two of his tackles on the 9. Bradshaw shoved him in the back a couple of times.
Jeremy Guscott, in his post-match discussion, went so far as to suggest that Itoje was on a personal vendetta against De Klerk.
But the real issue that England will need to take a long hard look at is their increasing inability to manage games. Somehow, despite the presence of a clutch of Test Lions, they seemed powerless to stem the tide once the game turned against them. They could not get themselves out of their half of the field for long stretches of time, eventually conceding the territorial contest by 60% to 40%.
Looking at the young Springboks and their performance, for the first 20 minutes it seemed that the emotion and occasion was too much for several of the home team. Silly defensive errors and a slowness to react to the moment gave England a 10 point lead within 5 minutes. Then they were outwitted by George Ford and Elliot Daly trotted over for the second try. Another soft try for Farrell, who converted all three, and it appeared to be game, set and match.
Certainly a lesser side would have looked at the scoreboard and heads would have dropped.
Last year’s Springboks would have been that lesser side.
But this is a whole new Springbok team.
The Springboks, sparked by the sheer guts and determination of Faf de Klerk, simply came roaring back. And the game was utterly transformed. First it was Faf himself who made the scoreboard tick, and then two more tries inside four minutes by S’bu Nkosi and another by Willie Le Roux, all converted by Pollard, and somehow, somewhat incredibly, the Boks had the lead and Ellis Park was alive again.
Once the Springboks had the bit between their teeth and had shaken off the fears, the nerves, and the doubts, it never seemed as if England would be able to get back into the game to win it. Maro Itoje and Jonny May scored late tries, which caused a bit of nervousness in the stands, but it was never going to be enough.
The English have a week to rethink and recover before the 2nd Test in Bloemfontein. They have to lick wounds, and look for solutions.
South Africa will head to Bloemfontein with something they did not have as they took to the grass at Ellis Park. They have the confidence that comes from a win and a great team performance. They also know that they will have home support.
They were told to play without fear, and now they know that they can do that!
I made some comment about England not being able to stay with the pace of the southern game. This contention is supported by the Australians win over Ireland, and the All Blacks win over France. In each instance, it was the pace and intensity of the southerners that earned them the win.
Willie le Roux was unceremoniously dumped by Allister Coetzee. He was “doing too much on his own.” At the time I suggested that the real fault lay with the rest of the Springbok back division, who did not have a clue about running support lines off le Roux. Coetzee was treating the symptom, not the cause.
After yesterday’s game Willie le Roux was asked by the interviewer what he had said to calm the two rookies outside him at Ellis Park. His answer speaks volumes: “I told them not to worry, it was my job to get the ball to them, and their job to do something with it.” And he did exactly that as they ran perfect supporting lines when he had the ball in hand. Welcome back Willie le Roux.
Duane Vermeulen is another that seemed to be at odds with Allister Coetzee from time to time. Thormeulen’s influence as a leader cannot be underestimated as he helped Siya Kolisi rally the troops after that first 20 minutes. Add his physicality in the collisions and over the ball, his confidence, his glowering presence, together with his enormous heart, and you have the kind of player that makes a difference.
Bongi Mbonambi is no Malcolm Marx. Nobody is Malcolm Marx, period. But Bongi brought the kind of mongrel and physicality that a Springbok hooker needs. Mostly, he brought accuracy at the lineouts and power in the scrum. Who needs Bismarck anyway?
Here are my Individual Player Ratings:
Individual Player Ratings
15 Willie le Roux: 8/10
Those that read my scribblings with any regularity will know that I am a fan of Willie le Roux. This performance allows me to say: “The case for the defence rests….” Influential, safe, and inspirational. He ran with intelligent purpose, looking for his support runners and working to create opportunities, which is his forte. (The fact that the support runners were looking to play off him simply highlights the deficiencies of the previous Springbok coach.) Made all his tackles too. Helped the Springboks control the game from the back, and gave the kind of leadership one expects from a senior player, guiding the two rookie wings through their jitters. One super back-tackle on Tom Curry. Welcome back Willie!
14 Sibusiso Nkosi: 7/10
Struggled with the intensity of Test rugby early one, and was guilty of leaving his defence channel open, but these are the things a rookie is likely to do. Once he had calmed the nerves and got into the game he started to look like a Test match winger. Clever chip and chase, with a little bit of luck and he had his first try. His second was a superb demonstration of a wing who goes looking for work as he collected Dyantyi’s offload for a copybook try. Very dangerous on attack – great thinking grubber to score that first try. Physical in defence, and fearless under the high ball, coupled to a certain predatory attitude. He could be wearing the 14 jersey for a long time to come.
13 Lukhanyo Am: 5/10
I am concerned by his instinct to jink and step the moment he gets the ball, even when no opponent is looming. Cuts back inside too many times, especially with the two wings he has outside him. His hands let him down rather too often for a Test match 13. Also seems to be unable to hold the ball in the collisions. Let’s call it a severe case of the jitters, but there were some basic mistakes and he was exposed on defence too many times. Once he settled down settled down he looked threatening on attack. Showed good strength over the ball.
12 Damian de Allende: 7/10
Judging by some of the social media comments immediately after the game De Allende is a somewhat polarising player. You either like him, or you hate him. I am one of the likers. Did everything one wants from an inside centre. Carried the ball 9 times, made 5 good passes without fluffing any, made six solid tackles and did not miss any save for the cover defence attempt on the tryline when he could perhaps have brought Brown to ground. Caught the kick-offs with focus and muscularity. A strong day with the ball in hand and on defence. His decision to attack the blindside lead to Nkosi’s first try.
11 Aphiwe Dyantyi: 6/10
Much like his fellow rookie on the other wing he suffered from the jitters in the first 20 minutes or so. In a mirror image of his fellow wing he came inside to expose the outside channel. Once he settled he showed what the buzz is all about. Made some impressive runs, gave a great offload for Nkosi’s second try. Great chasing of the tactical kicks, and fearless on the tackle. His juggling act before scoring his debut try did cause an anxious moment.
10 Handré Pollard: 7/10
Along with the entire Springbok team, he was just a little off the pace in the first 20 minutes. His cover defence tackle-effort on Mike Brown in the corner should have been better executed. Also slipped a tackle in the midfield, but went on to make four other tackles, one rated as a dominant tackle. Once he and the team settled down he took control of the game and directed play. Kept his backs in the game all day. Just his goal kicking misfired a bit as he left 8 points on the field, with two penalties and a conversion and a 70% kicking success rate. (Add the 8 points and 42 becomes 50!) That was a superb pass that set le Roux off for his try.
9 Francois de Klerk: 9/10
If Allister Coetzee was watching the game in Japan, he should be kicking himself for so quickly discarding this young man back in 2016. Forced the pace of the game by playing high-tempo rugby to put England on the backfoot. Brought plenty of mongrel too, as he ignored the English attempts to disrupt his equilibrium. Tackled fearlessly and with huge commitment. Very good game management, very good control, and a clinical kicking game too.
8 Duane Vermeulen: 9/10
When the Man of the Match was given to Faf de Klerk, nobody was surprised, he rightfully earned that accolade. But if there was an award for the Most Valuable Player, it would surely belong to Thormeulen. His calm leadership and constant support for Siya Kolisi helped the new captain more than most would realise. He was constantly talking to the youngsters around him, geeing them up and focussing them when the jitters threatened. Add the immense physical presence he brought to the game, stopping the massive Vunipolas with serious never-give-an-inch intent and drawing the physicality from the England forwards. Carried the ball with serious intent and was a massive presence over the loose ball, securing turnovers and spoiling England ball. Few players ooze the physical menace of a Duane Vermeulen.
7 Jean-Luc du Preez: 5/10
Expected much more from him, with the likes of Vermeulen and Kolisi to play off he was expected to be the close-in battering ram carrier, but his carries were not very effective. Hit the opposing tacklers too upright and without the leg drive we have seen before. Had defensive issues and leaked silly penalties. Just seemed out of sorts.
6 Siya Kolisi (captain): 7/10
Still not quite up to the standard of 2017, he is finding that form again. The added burden of the captaincy did not prevent him from having a storming game on defence, while also carrying the ball well. Did very well to calm his team down when the wheels wobbled in the first 20. He can look back on a great captaincy debut after the remarkable Springbok comeback.
5 Franco Mostert: 7/10
The engine room. Period. He has taken on Eben Etzebeth’s job of doing the hard yards down there where angels fear to tread, and he has done it well. Perhaps not the monstrous presence of an Etzebeth, he was the unsung hero of this effort. Made some strong carries and some really good tackles. Supreme in the lineouts, powerful clean-outs, and great support throughout.
4 Rudolph RG Snyman: 7/10
Managed to keep his impetuosity under control and did not give away the unnecessary penalties he is known for in Super Rugby. Physical and focussed, he ran some great supporting lines and carried the ball well. That 50m sprint after the Pollard pop-pass was great to watch, but was guilty of a no-look offload when retaining the ball was a better option. That was one of two such no-look offloads that robbed the Springboks of possession and momentum. Rookie mistakes. Crucial line-out steal late in the match to save game for Boks. He can be happy with his game.
3 Wilco Louw: 5/10
Just seems to be completely out of sorts. Last weekend and again this week it seemed as if he has lost his intensity and focus. Penalised in first scrum, he did sort out the binding problem and achieved parity with Mako Vunipola, but never had the better of the Englishman. Ineffective with the ball in hand and just a little lethargic. I wonder if he is fatigued?
2 Mbongeni Mbonambi: 6/10
Bongi is no Malcolm Marx, but he is a great one to have as your reserve hooker. His lineout throwing was spot-on, and he scrummed and hooked well. While his carries were relatively ineffective, lacking a bit of physicality, he was menacing over the ball and in the tackle.
1 Tendai Mtawarira: 6/10
Did everything a prop is supposed to do, but not much more. Made a couple of good carries, a couple of solid tackles, but nothing to catch the eye. Steady, rather than spectacular.
16 Armand van der Merwe 6/10 (replaced Mbonambi, 58th minute):
Not quite as solid in the scrums as Bongi Mbonambi, he was “rescued” by having Kitshoff and Du Toit on either side of him. Gave away a silly penalty when the ‘Boks were on the attack. Made all his tackles and found his jumpers.
17 Steven Kitshoff 8/10 (replaced Mtawarira in 48th min):
Opposing front rowers must hate having to face the big man when he comes on as an impact player. They simply have to know that he is going to cause them some problems. And he did it again, simply demolishing the English scrum on one occasion. Made a massive impact in the scrums and made a crucial turnover at the breakdown.
18 Thomas du Toit 5/10 (replaced Louw in 48th min):
Solid in scrums, but that was about it. He did add some weight to the drives and clearing out, but his carries were too upright and easily stopped. Slipped a couple of tackles.
19 Pieter-Steph du Toit 6/10 (replaced Du Preez in 50th minute):
Brought some bustle to the defence from the blindside of the scrum and covered a lot of ground, as we have come to expect from him. Worked hard on defence and made some good carries. Added another lineout option.
20 Sikhumbuzo Notshe 5/10 (replaced Kolisi, 72nd minute):
Eight minutes with no real impact, but not really enough time to be properly rated.
21 Ivan van Zyl 3/10 (replaced De Klerk in 73rd minute):
Did nothing wrong, but brought nothing new. Not sure why De Klerk was subbed as it robbed the Springboks of that extra element around the fringes. Not really enough time to be rated.
22 Elton Jantjies 2/10 (replaced De Allende, 74th minute):
Why was he brought on? Was caught completely flat-footed by the final England try and made no attempt to make the tackle. Did absolutely zero out on the field. Surely his time as a Springbok must be over?
23 Warrick Gelant 5/10 (on for Le Roux, 64th minute):
Had enough time to make his mark, but was simply anonymous. Did nothing wrong, and nothing to catch the eye.
15 Elliot Daly 4/10
Kicked a massive penalty, cruised in for a try, and then the wheels kinda came off. Two hard-won turnovers were kicked out on the full, and he missed grounding the ball in his own in goal, giving Nkosi the score. Made too many defensive mistakes. A neat finish to score his try and a great tackle on le Roux was about the best of his game.
14 Jonny May 7/10
Best of the England backs. Spent large chunks of the game with the ball in hand but often going nowhere, simply going sideways or backwards. Plenty of pace and a good work ethic. Set up two of England’s three early tries. Left Elton Jantjies dead in the water for his try late in the game that gave England a sniff with two minutes to play.
13 Henry Slade 5/10
Great initial 20 minutes and then seemed to fade from the game as the Springbok defence starved him of the ball. A great sidestep before passing to Brown for the try was elemental in slowing the Springbok cover defenders by half-a-yard.
12 Owen Farrell 7/10
Linked well with George Ford, but was just a little slow off the mark on occasion. Great support running, and some clinical game management and kicking helped the England cause. Faded as the game progressed. Missed one kick.
11 Mike Brown 6/10
Great footwork and power with the ball in hand, but that was about it. He was caught out on defence too easily, and was squeezed out of the game by his opposite number. One try saving tackle on Nkosi, and one more run with the ball in the second half.
10 George Ford 5/10
Much like the rest of England, he was brilliant in the first 20, but then seemed to go off the boil. He was effectively shut down by the Springbok line-speed and loose-forwards. His defence was a little iffy, and his tactical kicking suffered under the constant pressure.
9 Ben Youngs 5/10
An average day at the office. His passing was good, his support running was fair, his tackling just average. But none of the expected breaks around the edges and ball carrying. His kicking was poor.
8 Billy Vunipola 6/10
His strength has always been as a massive ball carrier and line-breaker. He tried to bring this to the game, but was effectively shut down by the Springbok defenders. Butchered a kick-receipt early on, but was generally a reliable receiver. He was kept quiet by the ‘Boks, and that is not something easily achieved.
7 Tom Curry 6/10
Seemed to be man-alone over the loose ball as his supporting loosies were nowhere to be seen. Had a busy day, making tackles, carrying the ball, and generally being a nuisance to the Springbok efforts. One great run with the ball.
6 Chris Robshaw 4/10
Chris who? Struggled with the pace and intensity of the game in the southern hemisphere. Got knocked back in the tackle too many times and had no presence over the loose ball except for shoving at fringe players in the rucks. Did not have the physicality to stop Springbok ball carriers in the tackle.
5 Nick Isiekwe 4/10
Quite why he was chosen to start if he was going to be hauled off after just 35 minutes is a question Eddie Jones should answer. The rookie lock was the starting to settle just as he was called off.
4 Maro Itoje 5/10
He can do so much better, when the mood takes him. It seemed that he had a personal vendetta against Faf de Klerk and spent the afternoon hunting for the scrumhalf. Twice penalised for hitting the scrumhalf high, he was lucky to get away with two other late charges. Was also pinned for not rolling away. He did his job in the lineouts and had the presence of mind to score his try. Not great on defence, too many of his tackles were merely of nuisance value rather than physical collisions.
3 Kyle Sinckler 5/10
Got the better of the Beast in one scrum, but for the rest was fairly anonymous as the two battled each other in the set-pieces and did little elsewhere on the field. None of the carries one expected from him, he was ineffectual over the ball. Crunched by Steven Kitshoff in the scrum before being subbed.
2 Jamie George 6/10
His lineouts worked well, but he was disappointing in the loose. Gave away silly penalties in the rucks and tackle situations. Was not a happy camper when the Springboks started to gain ascendancy in the scrums.
1 Mako Vunipola 5/10
Another player with a vendetta against Faf de Klerk, he too was guilty of off-the-ball shoves and late charges on the 9. Carried the ball strongly, and made his tackles with a good work rate. Some might suggest the yellow card was harsh, but he deserved it for a number of unpunished transgressions earlier in the game. Showed plenty of work rate and stamina and was having an influence in both attack and defence, before a yellow card for a late tackle tarnished what had otherwise been a solid outing.
16 Luke Cowan-Dickie 5/10
Found his jumpers on both of his lineout throws shortly after replacing Jamie George, but had his final lineout stolen, with England in South Africa’s half and only three points down. Struggled in the scrums and was invisible elsewhere on the field.
17 Joe Marler. Not enough time to be rated.
18 Harry Williams 5/10
Only had the one scrum and suffered the attentions of Kitshoff. Worked hard in the loose, brought a fresh presence at the breakdown.
18 Brad Shields 5/10
Not quite sure why the flanker was chosen as the 2nd row back-up by Eddie Jones. He was used as the lineout catcher after his arrival, but did very little else.
19 Nathan Hughes 4/10
A couple of powerful carries, but lacked the physicality to stop the Bok carriers. Could not clean out Kitshoff in the 75th minute, and handed the penalty to the Springboks. Anonymous elsewhere..
20 Ben Spencer
3 minutes is not enough time to be rated.
21 Piers Francis
Not enough time to be rated.
22 Denny Solomona
Not enough time to be rated.
For South Africa:
Tries: De Klerk, Nkosi 2, Le Roux, Dyantyi
Cons: Pollard 4
Pens: Pollard 3
Tries: Brown, Daly, Farrell, Itoje, May
Cons: Farrell 4
Pens: Daly, Farrell
Yellow Card: M Vunipola
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 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Siya Kolisi (c), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 RG Snyman, 3 Trevor Nyakane/Wilco Louw, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Tendai Mtawarira
Replacements: 16 Akker van der Merwe, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Wilco Louw/Thomas du Toit, 19 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 20 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 21 Ivan van Zyl, 22 Elton Jantjies, 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 Chris Robshaw, 5 Nick Isiekwe, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Jamie George, 1 Mako Vunipola
Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Joe Marler, 18 Harry Williams, 19 Brad Shields, 20 Nathan Hughes, 21 Ben Spencer, 22 Piers Francis, 23 Denny Solomona