>> Youngs does his talking on the pitch
Players with points to prove, chips on their shoulders, anger to vent, ground to make up and careers to salvage. It didn’t make for a great spectacle – that was never going to happen anyway given the conditions – but it did herald an England win and frankly that was the only thing that counted.
This week Ben Youngs did his talking both on the pitch and with Sky’s Gail Davis afterwards while Mike Brown, who demanded respect in midweek after being verbally abused by fans in Bloemfontein, earned it for the umpteenth time with another strong performance. Chris Robshaw, meanwhile, gave his reply to the premature rugby obituaries recently penned with his best performance in a long while.
Ok, South Africa were poor and Rassie Erasmus will have learnt the first lesson of Test rugby which is never take your foot off the jugular. In Test rugby you always kick an opponent when they are down and give them no cause for hope or optimism.
Over the previous two weeks his inexperienced experimental team had restored the feel good factor in South African rugby but yesterday, resting key men at fly-half and fullback and with changes elsewhere, the result was a miserably poor performance. You tinker at your peril at this and once the magic has dissipated it can be fiendishly difficult to conjure up again from the ether.
None of that need concern England, their sole objective at Newlands, was to win by any score and they made a decent fist of that in difficult conditions.
Youngs, right, was in hot water this week after his taciturn post match interview, and there was a steely look to the way he went about his work and after taking something of a pounding against opposite number Faf de Klerk in the first two Test matches. Revenge will have been sweet.
The Tiger embraced the conditions. There was much attention on Danny Cipriani and possibly subliminal pressure to let the Wasps man run the show and England also now have an almost embarrassing array of kicking options in Owen Farrell, Mike Brown, Henry Slade and Eliott Daly.
The conditions – and therefor the need to keep passing to a minimum – dictated, however, that the scrum-half did most of the kicking – tactical as well as clearing defensive work – and Youngs happily took that mantle on.
You might think that is obvious – Youngs has 76 caps and is a Lion from 2013 – but as England’s confidence has dipped in recent months many players have stopped doing the obvious instinctive thing.
So Youngs was in much better form during and straight after the game yesterday and there was no squirming with embarrasslevel ment – on our part as well as his – when he was pulled over for a word soon after final whistle.
Brown has also enjoyed himself in the kind of game he relishes. Although wearing an 11 shirt he was very much playing full-back in defence and dealt with the high ball as well as anybody on a difficult night. It’s what he does well and he also ran strongly and defended cleverly and he has been one of England’s most consistent players on this difficult tour.
His efforts for England have always demanded respect. Feel free to constructively criticise his play and skills on occasions – and many have including myself – but there is nobody in the England set-up who gives more of himself to the cause. That part of his game never
deserves bad mouthing by fans.
Then we come to Robshaw who can never be accused of giving less than 100 per cent for England although for a few months he hasn’t quite been himself, almost certainly on account of the accumulated fatigue that inevitably hits such whole hearted players occasionally.
Take the intensity out of their game and they become pale imitations of themselves. When intensity, workrate, passion and not missgreat ing tackles is the reason you are in the team you can’t afford to be at less than 100 per cent. Players with higher tariff skills can paper over the cracks to a certain extent with a well taken try or one moment of brilliance. Robshaw undoubtedly deserved to be dropped after the first Test at Ellis Park but the rush by some to send him off into Test retirement was premature and a little unseemly. He needed a rest – I have absolutely no idea why Eddie Jones played him in that Barbarians match – and in fact he still needs a lengthy break to re-energise but things happen on tour and Brad Shields’ illness in midweek necessitated that he put the surfboard away down in Durban at training this week and go to the well one more time this season.
Wet ball, heavier conditions, must win game, a muscular arm wrestle – Robshaw was born for such rugby matches and he was soon back in the groove earning some valuable turnovers and landing a few big hits and generally enjoying the slower pace of the game. Robshaw – certainly at this late stage in his career – is a man who enjoys the mud, rain and wind of Cape Town much more than the dust and sweat of the High Veldt.