Beware the wounded lion

Last Saturday’s mediocre showing suggests England will present little threat to the world champions, but the Springboks hardly need to be reminded of the Twickenham hoodoo.

Andy Robinson’s mob went into the 2006 series against the Springboks having lost to Argentina at home. The World Cup holders were on the slide and even though South Africa were touring with an inexperienced unit they were expected to beat the Poms at Twickenham. Even though they’d battled to win at the England fortress since 1997, the time had come to bury the bogey.

The Boks squandered their initial advantage and ended up losing the first Test, and the second was won through the drop-goal heroics of flyhalf Andre Pretorius. The similarity between the incumbent Bok side and the team of 2006 is the lack of consistency. The Boks were not an 80-minute team back then, and if the current tour is any indicator, they’re not an 80-minute team now. They led that first Test and were on their way to a comfortable victory, but a drop in intensity and some errant decision-making contributed to their snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

There is no question of who should win this weekend. South Africa possess quality individuals, many of whom won World Cup gold in France last year. England surprised by reaching that final, and are weaker now than they were then. So why is their uncertainty over Saturday’s result? The answer is simple. The answer is Murrayfield.

The Boks have yet to lose on this three-game tour, and it is for this reason Peter de Villiers may feel harsh criticism is unwarranted. But the Scotland Test was never about the result, it was about how the Boks played the game. It became about the result when the Boks played badly enough to allow the Six Nations bottom feeders a sniff at victory. The Boks hung on for the win, but the inadequacies in that performance cannot be neglected now that the win column has been ticked. Scotland was about preparation for the England Test, and after the Cardiff bungle, the Boks needed sharpening. The poor effort in Edinburgh sees them back to square one, and with less confidence to boot.

The Boks may take some heart from England’s showing last Saturday, and then again, they might not. Australia won comfortably, but there were times when England’s individuals cut up the famous Wallabies defence. England pivot Danny Cipriani blew hot and cold, but as much as you can criticise his shortcomings, you have to acknowledge his gamebreaking ability. If South Africa give this England side a sniff, they may gratefully accepting the gift and go on to record an upset.

The focus for Saturday’s game will be up front, and the Bok pack’s performance at Murrayfield will not inspire confidence. But the English were also taken to task by a clever Aussie scrum and no matter how much Lawrence Dallaglio bleated about poor refereeing during his half-time comment, it showed England were unable to adapt. South Africa were also at fault in Edinburgh when they failed to read referee Dave Pearson correctly. Under the ELVs, you need to know your referee and adapt to how he manages a particular aspect of the game. It may not be fair, but that’s how the game is under the new laws.

The Boks need to up their intensity but they also need to adopt a more street-wise attitude. England are going to be physical and the referee is going to play a part in calling the collisions. The Boks haven’t been happy with the officiating on this tour, but then they should be unhappy with their own lack of intensity and poor discipline. The term boxing clever applies to this Saturday’s Test, as while South Africa need to bring all their traditional might to the party, they’ll have to display more composure in the forward battles.

Should England beat South Africa, a team stacked with quality players most of whom won the 2007 World Cup? No. Can England beat South Africa this Saturday? Definitely. The Boks have won two from two, but they’ve displayed a vulnerability that suggests a rude awakening is not far off.