Cape Town - The theme of English press reaction to the Springboks’ decisive loss to the home nation at Twickenham has focused heavily on how violently in decline Allister Coetzee’s charges appear to be.
Some assessments of the 37-21 outcome in England’s favour on Saturday also picked holes in coach Coetzee’s post-match attempts to see the bright side or offer certain excuses for the Boks’ loss.
Michael Aylwin of The Observer described the surrender of the visitors’ near 10-year unbeaten record against England as “a dispiriting prick of the balloon... and balloon-thick is South Africa’s confidence at the moment”.
But he wasn’t entertaining the Bok coach’s attempts to put a positive spin on the performance: “Coetzee observed afterwards that it was just a lack of concentration, composure, organisation - delete cliche as applicable - but coaches always say that.
“And it almost always is a momentary lapse in basics that initiates, and sustains, each unravelling of a team in crisis. Let’s not go into the defensive lapses for tries three and four (to England).
“The ‘but for silly mistakes’ line is a favourite of coaches under pressure, trying to give the impression that the underlying structures are fine, that they have only a couple of kinks to straighten out before all is well.
“But it is a thin argument. In theory, if a team makes all its tackles and holds its defensive line, then tries would never be scored. At least on the chalkboard.
“On the field, maintaining one’s basics is a manifestly difficult feat, when the lungs burn and the opposition, irritatingly, keep putting pressure on you. The measure of a side is how they react to the inevitable errors, not just the amount of pressure they can handle before they make them.
“By both counts, this South Africa team are where the world knows them to be - in a desperate place.
“The broader picture is far bleaker. Whatever the troubled circumstances in South African rugby - and they have always been there - the sport is in danger of losing as a credible force one of its most famous exponents. Nobody benefits from it.”
Steve James of the Sunday Telegraph reminded that England hadn’t even been at their best.
“Just imagine if England had played well. They hammered South Africa here whilst overcoming some heavy rustiness and some awful ill-discipline in the first half, with their scrummage under some pressure too.
“It just shows how good they can be or indeed already are... but sadly also how poor South Africa are right now.
“For the visitors did not exactly put up a frenzied fight in defence of their unbeaten record against England since 2006.
“They were desperately lacking in quality and also desperately dull in continuing to kick long even though England stationed Billy Vunipola in the back to field them every time.
“But England were obviously superior for a number of reasons. Most obvious to me was the speed of their ruck ball. Their breakdown work was of the highest order yet again and Tom Wood filled the James Haskell-type role very well.
“It meant that scrumhalf Ben Youngs could enjoy one of his finest games for England. He constantly taunted and teased the South African defence around the ruck area and created two of England’s four tries. He also box-kicked expertly.
“But to enjoy such quick ball you require big runners crashing over the gain line and in both Vunipolas, Billy and Mako, England had that. Both of them were titanic.
“England’s lineout was also magnificently reliable, with locks Joe Launchbury and Courtney Lawes having excellent matches all round against the one area of South Africa’s team where there was real class.”
Sam Peters, for The Mail on Sunday, wrote: “This was a comprehensive demolition of a South African team that may not have lost to England (previously) in a decade, but is showing alarming signs of terminal decline.
“On this evidence, it will be a long time before England lose to the Springboks again.
“Eddie Jones’s upwardly mobile team were in a different class… for periods of the second half, England toyed with their once-vaunted opponents.”
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