Rising from the dead

In 80 minutes Andre Pretorius transformed his own tour and also gave further life to Jake White’s tenure as Bok coach, writes Keo in his Business Day column.

Pretorius restored credibility to his international career and also gave Springbok coach Jake White comfort that here was a talent good enough to wear the No 10 jersey at next year’s World Cup.

Juan Smith was deservedly named man of the match for his magnificent performance in the win against England, but Pretorius’s prize was far greater for this was supposed to be the funeral of his test career.

A week earlier White had told the media that Pretorius’s lack of form against Ireland and England (in the last 20 minutes of the first test) was disturbing. White said he was not convinced about the identity of his World Cup flyhalf.

On Saturday evening the Bok coach was smiling. He had entrusted Pretorius with breaking the back of England and the maligned flyhalf gave his finest test performance in the northern hemisphere.

White said he had told Pretorius to back his instincts and challenged him to take ownership of the jersey. The player, in turn, did just this in kicking four drop goals and tactically giving an assured kicking display. His defence was another plus on a day of highs.

A couple of months ago White’s Boks were on a five-match losing streak and the guillotine was about to come down on the Bok coach. Then Pretorius kicked a 78th minute penalty to beat the All Blacks by a point. In the build-up to Saturday’s test White was also staring at the guillotine, but again Pretorius played saviour to the coach.

The Bok win was deserved and needs to be applauded. It was a tremendous effort to come from 14-3 down and whip the English. The perspective will be in how poor England have been in the last year, but no amount of perspective should dull the emotions of winning at Twickenham for the first time since 1997.

The win was also crucial for the Boks. It would have been difficult to take positives from three tour defeats, but the one emphatic win to complete the international season did offer more than just good cheer.

White, having got so much wrong this season in his selections, got plenty right on Saturday. The balance of the loose-trio was an improvement on the previous two tests, the selection of Danie Rossouw at No 8 proved inspiring and the halfbacks profited from the efforts of the Bok pack.

John Smit, lambasted for poor leadership when the Boks imploded a week ago, also turned his tour around with fine leadership after the Boks had fallen behind 14-3.

BJ Botha, at tighthead, played his best test, the locks were powerful and Juan Smith proved irresistible in the No 7 jersey. Jean de Villiers also took on greater responsibility and displayed better decision-making in defence and with the ball.

Pretorius, though, was the big winner. He was playing for his international career and he knew it. He beat England and beat off every demon that has terrified him in previous tests in the northern hemisphere.

His performance was always going to be crucial to the outcome of the test. I did not think he was capable of Saturday’s effort and felt England would win because of the frailties Pretorius has too often displayed when touring north. My criticism was very public and my applause must be as public.

Pretorius’s response to the pounding was emphatic and inspirational.

White was justifiably euphoric afterwards. His season has been a terrible one and the Saturday evening press conferences have been torture. On Saturday evening he laughed, smiled and took kindly to all the plaudits that came his way.

White’s stubbornness in selection has contributed to the seven Bok defeats this season. This time the coach changed his selection philosophy, backed down on his belief that you don’t need variation in the loose-forwards and he got the elusive Twickenham win.

Even if it is too little too late for the coach, the little that was there at Twickenham was huge in the context of a winless last decade in London. There is a new and young generation of Bok who has won at Twickenham. That is huge.

The Boks have whipped England in London. It sounds so good it just has to be said again. The Boks have whipped England in London.