England made a resolute comeback in the second half but it was too late by then, the raw power of South Africa having dominated the first half as they went on to win the game and thus the series. Leave your thoughts about the game either in the comments below or on Twitter @ballintouch
Scotland aside, if rugby matches lasted only 79 minutes then it would have been a historic day for the Northern Hemisphere with both Ireland and Wales beating their respective Southern Hemisphere opponents. However, as you will know referees are less than gracious when it comes to manipulating their time keeping and both those sides suffered agonising losses thanks to last minute kicks. England on the other hand could have done with this game lasting about another twenty minutes, such was there rate of recovery after failing to show up until the second half.
Having matched the Springboks for three quarters of the previous fixture, the uncontrollable risk to England was that South Africa decided to replicate that steam rolling 3rd quarter for a longer period. Unfortunately for England, they did just that and for 50 minutes England were shell shocked and powerless to resist.
For the first eight minutes, England touched the ball three times. Two kick offs and the put in at a scrum. South Africa meanwhile got two tries. An early probe by Habana was knocked on and from the resulting England scrum the ball rolled straight through the packs with the officials failing to notice it hadn’t touched anyone and thus should have been called back. This therefore meant Willem Alberts was gifted the easiest of scores, unopposed from five metres to give England the worst possible start. From the restart South Africa worked their way back up the field again and Bismarck Du Plessis was deemed to have squeezed over by the TMO. Having missed the first, Morne Steyn kicked the second conversion.
A break by Foden in quick response went unsupported, though a slow retreating South African gave Toby Flood the chance to make the score 12-3 with a penalty for the offside. But after ten minutes England were already chasing the game, despite not having done anything particularly bad (bar the scrum) but then again hadn’t done anything particularly good either. They simply could not take the weight of possession South Africa were commanding.
Ben Youngs was caught by the scavenging defence after taking the ball into his own in goal area and when England infringed at the scrum, Steyn could not miss from under the posts to reassert the 12 point lead. England were clearly taken aback by this wave of power and possession that was surging over them as time and again South Africa made it over the gain line, knocking England defenders backwards with every contact.
It didn’t take long for the pressure to tell once more as England were battered back to their line before Francois Hoougard stepped inside Johnson from a couple of metres for try number three. Steyn’s conversion making it 22-3 after only twenty minutes and England could quite easily have crumbled.
With South Africa providing a masterclass of the basics, England could not deal with the army of mountainous forwards coming from deep and the kick chase from the backs.
After 23 minutes, finally England started to string some phases together, a quick tapped penalty from the lively Ben Youngs was fed to the supporting Chris Ashton who charged into the space behind the still retreating Springboks before putting Toby Flood in for a simple enough pirouette and score which he converted to make the score look a bit more respectable.
In response to this South Africa were in no mood to be generous and Morne Steyn hit a long range drop goal that had Lancaster fretting once again as his side struggled to gain a foothold in the game.
While England runners were almost lateral and too busy trying to avoid contact in the first half, South Africa were running hard and straight with every charge a challenge to English defenders to dare get in their way. The last notable action of the half way an attempted 60m penalty from Fran Steyn. The sight of it sliding wide was one moment of respite in a sea of torment for England. And we were only up to half time!
Robshaw was lucky to avoid a yellow for denying a try in front of his own posts early in the second half and Steyn settled for the three. The TMO was busy again when Ben Youngs stole a tapped down lineout and was adjudged to have skimmed the grass of the try line despite the arguably illegal attention of the Springbok defence. Flood’s conversion meant the score was now 28-17 and England were still in it. Just.
With the benches starting to rotate onto the field the Springboks power upfront seemed to diminish slightly whilst the addition of Corbisero meant the Beast started to show a chink in his armour. The now wavering Steyn added to his tally for the day with another penalty as the margin stood at 14 points to go into the final quarter before Youngs was at it again. Energised from his earlier score, he was quicker to a ruck one metre out than the defence and dived over. Flood continued to strike the ball well and made the score 31-24 as Kruger was taken off on a stretcher and the South Africans started to really wobble for the first time in the game. The surging confidence of the first half was now replaced by sideways glances of concern as England refused to give up the game.
With the restart going out on the full, England performed their scrum of the game, shunting the Springboks five metres and giving Flood the chance to close the gap to four, which he did. The home fans were shifting uncomfortably in their seats now.
With the next score crucial, a poor kick by Joseph allowed JP Pietersen to build up steam and skip past several would be tacklers to breach the English defence. Sniffing an opportunity the forwards surged forward and the ball eventually found itself to Pietersen out wide this time to jog over and petulantly score. Steyn again failed to intercept the sticks leaving England with nine points to make up with 5 minutes to go.
Despite efforts to up the tempo, England could find nothing more to t rouble the scoreboard and as the clock flashed red, South Africa cleared the ball for the pitch to take their second win and the series. Defeated yes, but a lot of pride was restored in the final moments of the game with a much more respectable scoreline and given a bit longer on the clock England could well have went on to sneak it. But as I’ve said, referees aren’t that generous.
Although improved, England’s kick chase was not good enough and the likes of Habana lapped up the extra metres available with every return. The real source of the loss however came from the sheer power and physicality of the South Africans. England tried manfully to hold them back but failure to push South Africa into their own half and make them do some tackling meant the writing was on the wall early on and South Africa were well on their way to scoring 50 points, minimum.
You feel even if England had built actual brick walls the South Africans would have got through, every runner of theirs seemingly seeking to cause as much damage as possible. A turning point was the substitution of several of the starting forwards for South Africa. Denied the edge they had had so far in the scrum, it allowed England back into it. South Africa also took their foot off the pedal. Understandable when almost twenty points up, but unacceptable at any level of rugby.
Youngs looked like the 2010 vintage and Flood provided an assuring performance with the boot as well probing the defence as was expected of him. Tuilagi didn’t quite work at 12, the young Leicester centre missing a couple of important tackles and failing to energise the men outside him. But then again he isn’t an international level 12 yet so he can’t be blamed for that. England have some very good inside centres but they are still to find THE 12 to take them to 2015 I feel.
Strettle and Morgan look vulnerable based on this display, Waldrom’s entrance at the expense of Morgan coinciding with England’s improvement. Tuilagi went out on the wing for the final part of the game and now the series it may be interesting to see what Tuilagi can do out there, though the notoriously loyal Lancaster seems unlikely to be this daring.
Robshaw and Waldrom aside, the back row did no more than ok and England lacked a back rower to really challenge their counterparts from the get go. In all likelihood Haskell will be in the match 22 for this reason in the Third Test as he is not one to take a backward step.
Palmer too may have sneaked into a starting shirt as the second row pairing of Botha and Parling struggled against another annoyingly good South Africa line out. The spirit of Matfield lives on.
With the series now lost it is only pride for next week but England will go into the game fancy their chances. They genuinely had the ‘Boks rattled going into the last quarter. It felt like a Rocky movie by then, South Africa having mercilessly worked the body almost unopposed from the first bell and yet here England were, still standing and going for it into the final round.
To win the last game England need to start stronger. Much stronger. They may as well have been directing traffic at times and it was only after Ben Youngs had improved the scoreboard almost singlehandedly that they started to get into the game.
Lancaster will tweak the side and give those that impress during the mid-week game a chance you’d hope. England haven’t got the results they wanted so far but it could have been a lot worse. They have also learnt plenty about the sort of level they need to be at to take on the world’s best side and aren’t that far away from getting that all important win to justify the progress they have made. We all just hope it will be next week.
Scorers: South Africa: Tries: Alberts (4min), B du Plessis (8), Hougaard (19), Pietersen (73). Conversions: M Steyn. Penalty goals: M Steyn (15, 47, 59). Dropped goal: M Steyn (27).
England: Tries: Flood (24), Youngs 2 (51, 62). Conversions:Flood 2. Penalty goals: Flood (10).
Scoring sequence: (South Africa first): 5-0, 12-0, 12-3, 15-3, 22-3, 22-10, 25-10, 28-10, 28-17, 31-17, 31-24, 36-27.
South Africa: P Lambie (rep: R Pienaar 66), JP Pietersen, J de Villiers, F Steyn, B Habana (rep: B Basson 60); M Steyn, F Hougaard (rep: R Pienaar 59); T Mtawarira, B du Plessis (rep: A Strauss 61), J du Plessis (rep: W Kruger 60), E Etzebeth, J Kruger (rep: F van der Merwe 63), M Coetzee, W Alberts (rep: K Daniel 51), P Spies.
England: B Foden (rep: A Goode 76), C Ashton, J Joseph, M Tuilagi, D Strettle (rep: O Farrell 60); T Flood, B Youngs; J Marler (rep: A Corbisiero 57) D Hartley (rep: Mears 77), D Cole(rep: A Corbisiero 51-57)), M Botha (rep: T Palmer 40+1), G Parling, T Johnson, C Robshaw, B Morgan (rep: T Waldrom 47)
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