Boks fluff on the field
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.