Boks fluff on the field

CityPress - - Sport - – City Press cor­re­spon­dent

The Spring­boks proved be­yond a shadow of a doubt that they are at their best when not in pos­ses­sion by nar­rowly los­ing a game they should have won by a coun­try mile against Eng­land at the start of their four-match tour of Europe by tak­ing the low road. Rassie Eras­mus’ men dom­i­nated the start of this test in pretty much all as­pects in the first half, but a slew of un­forced er­rors some­how saw the smarter hosts es­cape with a much-needed win against a side that scored the only try of the match, but ul­ti­mately played brain­less rugby.

The Boks had more than enough chances when they had the mo­men­tum in the first half to win the game and, on the ev­i­dence of their blunt­ness at Twick­en­ham, France, Scot­land and Wales will also fancy their chances at top­pling the All Black slay­ers.

Some­what sur­pris­ingly for a vis­it­ing team at Twick­en­ham, it was the Boks that dom­i­nated pro­ceed­ings at the be­gin­ning from a pos­ses­sion and ter­ri­to­rial per­spec­tive, a sit­u­a­tion that would ul­ti­mately yield num­bers of 65% and 75%, re­spec­tively, by the end of the first half.

The fact that the Boks held the up­per hand in the scrums wasn’t im­me­di­ately clear as Eng­land went with chan­nel one ball in their first two scrums.

But the mo­ment the hosts felt they were set­tled enough to en­gage in the arm wres­tle, Steven Kit­shoff emerged the big­ger man in his bat­tle with Eng­land tight head Kyle Sinck­ler, the hosts’ scrum cough­ing up a scrum penalty and a good old-fash­ioned tight head in the first half as they were marched back­wards.

Eng­land also hav­ing an ill-dis­ci­plined start to the game – much like they did in their first test against the Boks at El­lis Park in June – made life eas­ier for the vis­i­tors, a sit­u­a­tion so dire for the hosts that they had con­ceded four penal­ties and Maro Itoje by the 16th minute, the lock hav­ing com­mit­ted three of the fouls.

Yet for all those ad­van­tages, the Boks were go­ing nowhere slowly on the score­board, thanks to con­testable passes on at­tack, cough­ing up the ball in con­tact and – crim­i­nally – over­thrown line-outs by world player of the year nom­i­nee Mal­colm Marx on Eng­land’s 5m line.

Marx’s strug­gles with the ball to the tail of the line-out cost the Boks two pos­si­ble chances to score in the first half and gifted the hosts an 80m gal­lop down­field for them to make their first en­try into the vis­i­tors’ 22m line in the 44th minute.

And when the Boks did man­age to keep their hands on the ball, they scored through the im­pres­sive winger Sbu Nkosi on his re­turn to in­ter­na­tional rugby from a lengthy ham­string in­jury.

Nkosi, whose four tests have all been against Eng­land, scored his third try against the Poms in the 33rd minute, an ef­fort whose ori­gins were a good scrum, yet an­other bul­lock­ing run by in­side cen­tre Damian de Al­lende, and quick hands by Aphiwe Dyan­tyi and War­ren White­ley on the tram­lines to re­lease the right winger.

With that try, Nkosi capped off a per­for­mance that bris­tled with in­tent in at­tack and ag­gres­sion in de­fence, the kind of work rate that got him re­placed in the 60th minute and great work un­der the high ball.

With the Boks’ mis­takes, their de­fence and fly half Owen Far­rell’s boot keep­ing them in the game, the hosts in­evitably wrested the mo­men­tum away from the vis­i­tors in the third quar­ter, the rush de­fence and their own er­rors with ball in hand com­ing to Eras­mus’ men’s aid dur­ing that pe­riod of pres­sure.

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