Johannesburg - The Springboks got exactly what they bargained for when England broke the 10-year hoodoo the South Africans had held over them at Twickenham in England on Saturday.
Having picked a hulking team aimed at keeping things respectable rather than necessary to win a rugby game, they got just that as England weathered a spirited, if predictable, storm of one-off runners and showed them for the dinosaurs they are becoming with each passing week.
The Boks led the game 6-0 and 9-7, after a promising start saw fly half Pat Lambie slot two penalties and a left-footed drop-goal each time South Africa got into England’s territory.
But the moment Eddie Jones’ men wised up to the Boks’ predictable fare of old mistakes – a fragile defence, a barely existent kicking game and shoddy breakdown work – the hosts had as good as won. The moment they took the outright lead occurred in the 34th minute, to be precise.
The Boks had come into the game looking to improve in several areas.
While the scrums and lineouts continued to hold their own – as they have in recent weeks – the team’s defence, kicking and aerial game, and breakdown play were still infuriatingly inconsistent.
While the Boks took turns sharing their own ball at the lineouts – even centre Damian de Allende took a deliberate overthrow at the back – it was puzzling as to why they did not contest the hosts’ ball once in defence in the first half, in spite of having picked no less than five jumpers.
The scrambling in defence suggested the Boks were willing to put their bodies on the line, but defensive errors still led to England’s first two tries, by wing Jonny May and lock Courtney Lawes.
In the former’s try, the Boks got flummoxed by a well-worked move off a lineout by England which had more dummy runners than a clothes shop window, allowing themselves to be sucked into the midfield – only for England to quickly recycle the ball out to May, who was on his own by the time the pass caught up with him.
The second try was a result of not closing down Ben Youngs’ space – in so doing, allowing him a kick ahead that Ruan Combrinck and Willie le Roux failed to deal with, with 50th cap Lawes the last man to flop on a ball which had avoided several players like a cake of soap.
Also, defending around the ruck fringes was pitiful, with the Boks allowing England through on several occasions in the first half before being punished with a George Ford try early in the second half.
Again the kicking game failed to reap rewards, with the kickers either kicking too far for the chasers or South Africa uncertain under the high ball when it came to their turn to diffuse the high bombs.
With broadsword flankers to handle the collisions, Coetzee’s men were adequate getting over the advantage line, but not having a designated fetcher meant they couldn’t do much to slow the opposition’s ball when defending.
England 37 – Tries: Jonny May, Courtney Lawes, George Ford, Owen Farrell. Conversions: Farrell (4). Penalties: Farrell (2), Elliot Daly
SA 21 – Tries: Johan Goosen, Willie le Roux. Conversion: Ruan Combrinck. Penalties: Pat Lambie (2). Drop-goal: Lambie