The Springboks gained a massive foothold in their mission to win back their fans with a comfortable 23-12 victory over England in Bloemfontein on Saturday evening that also ensured they walk away with an early series triumph.
It was the perfect gift for Beast Mtawarira on this 100th appearance as well as skipper Siya Kolisi’s 27th birthday.
With a healthy crowd of 40 028 weathering the bitterly cold conditions, the Boks were again shell-shocked early like the previous week in Johannesburg but quickly bounced back from a 12-0 deficit as they ran in 23 unanswered points and kept England scoreless in the second half.
There wasn’t the fireworks of last weekend at Ellis Park, instead the Boks outmuscled an off-colour visiting side and were more calmer in weathering onslaughts.
Who was the star in this match?
The value of experience was emphasised by a rampaging Duane Vermeulen. The No 8 had an outstanding afternoon, flourishing on attack to score a vital try and continually pestering the English at the breakdowns. His recall has been fully justified.
Key themes and moments
- Shades of Ellis Park were evident in the opening minutes again as England took an early lead. While South Africa generally had the upper hand in the opening exchanges, their defence in the wider channels was ruthlessly exposed by the visiting backs, who showed immense skill and patience on attack.
- The Springboks appropriately turned the tide through the centurion, Mtawarira, who cleverly spotted a hole at a breakdown to go on the run that eventually led to Vermeulen’s try. Still, the eighthman had lots to do but he simply looked unstoppable.
- Armed with a 13-12 lead at half-time, the Boks once again showed some decent tactical awareness in the second 40 by combining an attacking mindset with a prudent territorial kicking game. It wasn’t always executed perfectly but the intent is encouraging.
- The penalty try awarded at scrum time for the Boks in the 50th minute – as soon as Steven Kitshoff replaced Mtawarira – swung matters in the home side’s favour. It was a testament to the strength of the Boks’ bench.
- England are surely now in trouble under coach Eddie Jones. This is their sixth loss in succession and they generally looked impotent after their fast start. Promising attacking movements were undone by poor handling, they fell off far too many tackles and their discipline was suspect. Prop Mako Vunipola conceded a needless penalty when he shoved the back of Pieter-Steph du Toit’s head into the ground while replacement flanker Nathan Hughes was shown yellow for cynically slowing the ball down on the ground.
- The growth of the Boks’ more mercurial players – Faf de Klerk, S’bu Nkosi, Aphiwe Dyantyi and Willie le Roux – stood out again. All four made early mistakes, particularly De Klerk, but the faith shown in them allows them to retain confidence and that eventually leads to moments of brilliance. The quartet all had good games.
Springboks – Tries: Duane Vermeulen, Penalty try. Conversion: Handre Pollard. Penalties: Pollard (3)
England – Tries: Mike Brown, Johnny May. Conversion: Owen Farrell.