Johannesburg - The disappointment of the loss to Ireland may have been worth going through and may even have proved beneficial to the Springbok build-up to the World Cup now that Jean de Villiers’ team have prevailed in the big match of their tour against England.
According to the supersport.com website, There is always massive pressure on the Boks to win against England but the intensity of that need was ratcheted up quite a few notches by the result of the opening tour match in Dublin nine days ago. The Twickenham match suddenly became an even bigger defining point of the season for the Boks than the Ellis Park clash with the All Blacks, and the success or failure of the year was on the line.
That was probably a good experience for the Boks to go through considering that the next time they are in London it will be for the most pressured phase of the current four year cycle – the World Cup knock-out fixtures.
It was in fact the second time under Meyer that they have gone to Twickenham with everything on the line. In 2012 they visited Twickenham needing to beat England to end Meyer’s first season in charge on the positive side of the balance sheet. They only just snuck home then, and quite fortuitously, but it wasn’t nearly as close as that this time.
While Bok fans would have been anxiously gnawing their nails in the last minute of the game after England had come back to score a try that put them within scoring distance of winning, the reality was that the game was similar for England to the one against the All Blacks the week before. That late try put a false gloss on the final scoreline on a day when they were well beaten.The Boks were never headed in the game and the only window of opportunity for England to be competitive on the scoreboard was gifted to them by some dubious decisions from the team of referees, most particularly the call against Bryan Habana when the Bok wing had correctly read the situation in fielding one of many wayward England field kicks with his one foot firmly rooted to the ground behind the touchline.
The refereeing call should have been to take the play back to where the kick was launched and give the throw to the Boks, but referee Steve Walsh was incorrectly advised by his assistant that Habana’s foot was in the air when he caught the ball. It proved a costly decision to the Boks as the England throw was in a good field position and with the Bok chief lineout forward Victor Matfield off the field because of a yellow card, England were able to add a further try to one scored immediately after Matfield was banished minutes earlier.
Those two tries cancelled out what had been a sizeable 14 point advantage to the Boks and it could so easily have gone horribly pear shaped for the visitors from there as it was clear that they were stunned by the scores and had momentarily lost the defensive structure that had been so good earlier.
That though might have been worthwhile pain for Meyer and his team to go through, for they passed the acid test of nerve with flying colours. Many previous Bok teams would have seen their challenge fall away, with the contest being forgotten in their frustration at the referee, but the Boks quickly regained their composure, and here credit must go to skipper De Villiers, who did a superb job in those crucial minutes.
Instead of allowing themselves to be disheartened by what had happened, the Boks maintained the steely resolve that had been responsible for them going into the lead against an England team that had enough ball to make an impression but which was blunted by a physical and well organised Bok defensive wall.
It resulted in them driving over for a try to Schalk Burger to regain the lead and after that they never relinquished it.
Although Pat Lambie missed some crucial kicks that should have seen the Boks move clear, he also nailed a pressure attempt to make it an eight point lead just when that buffer was needed, and further redeemed himself from some earlier mistakes with the late drop-goal that made England’s mission an almost impossible one with five minutes to go.
It was far from a perfect performance from the Boks, but it was an important win given the pressure they were under going into the game and the hole they could have been in after the Matfield yellow card early in the second half. On both counts they made it a triumph for composure, as indeed did the All Blacks by scoring a try late in the game against Scotland just when the underdogs were challenging for an upset victory.
The setback in Dublin might have been understandable given that the Boks hadn’t played for five weeks and had to relearn what it takes to win in the northern hemisphere, but this past weekend the two top teams in the world showed again why they hold those positions. They have the composure and mental strength that defines the champion teams.
On the evidence of the past two weeks there isn’t much else separating the southern hemisphere teams from those in the north, particularly when it comes to playing in northern conditions, with France holding out in the late game to inflict the first defeat of Michael Cheika’s reign as Wallaby coach.
The Boks though will know that they should be much better equipped to play northern hemisphere style rugby the next time they travel that side of the equator for while the players standing in certainly did their bit, and the Boks wouldn’t have won otherwise, the likes of Fourie du Preez and Willem Alberts will bring a necessary dynamic when they return from injury. The outlook for the Boks is much brighter now than it appeared seven days ago.