Boks start new era with disjointed win
9 Jun 2012
RYAN VREDE reports on an ugly but critical 22-17 victory for the Springboks over England at Kings Park.
Head coach Heyneke Meyer gives you the sense that he, more so than most of his predecessors, was born to fill this role. There were teething pains at the Bulls, including demotion to coach the Vodacom Cup side after a poor Super Rugby campaign, but his impact and influence – both which transcend what has happened on the field – is undeniable. There was an inevitability about his ascension to this role, the error of appointing Peter de Villiers ahead of him simply strengthening his spirit and deepening his resolve to land the job he most coveted.
Nerves and excitement would have affected the quality of his sleep last night, but this evening, after his team negotiated an England team high on industry but lacking the tactical refinement and/or individual brilliance to oust their opponents, he will rest more easily. The tourists will rebound strongly next weekend, given the tactical insights this match would have offered them. But Meyer and his Boks are now 80 minutes away from claiming a prized scalp.
Meyer may never coach another game where the quality of the performance and the result has significantly less to do with his technical, tactical and psychological inputs than it did the individual quality of his players – Willem Alberts chief among those – and their desire to ensure this new Springbok era began with a victory. There can be more encouragement drawn from the performance of his debutants, particularly Marcell Coetzee, who was irrepressible.
In line with expectations, the Springboks largely showed little synergy on attack. Their shortcomings in the former were particularly pronounced in the first half, with good scoring opportunities spurned, the best of which fell to Pierre Spies in the 21st minute, the No 8 denied by a desperate and brilliant tackle from Manu Tuilagi.
You could only appreciate the Springboks’ attacking impotence in the first 40 minutes live. Francois Hougaard has his strengths, but his kicking game is not good enough when measured against the objectives of the game plan. Ruan Pienaar, superior in this discipline, is a better option. Furthermore, often runners isolated themselves, allowing England a crack at the turnover or stifling their recycle. Their rolling maul, a primary weapon, was comfortably negotiated by England. Because they couldn’t build pressure in the first half, Morne Steyn’s goal-kicking threat was nullified. That they were expected to struggle in this facet of play didn’t make it any less frustrating to watch.
Defensively there was plenty of passion and punch, but initially very little organisation. England had limited opportunities in the first half, but made good use of those, looking dangerous when they shifted the ball wide. It took a magnificent tackle from Hougaard to deny Chris Ashton in the 31st minute. That ensured the visitors didn’t take a greater lead against the run of play, but they made their limited surges into the Springboks’ 22m count, Owen Farrell banking two penalties to Steyn’s double to leave the sides tied six-all at the break.
Then something changed for the Springboks. Their build-up play was more patient and purposeful, their effectiveness here borne from a marked improvement in their gainline efficiency. When Jannie du Plessis broke to get in behind the defensive line a try was inevitable, and Morne Steyn duly finished. He’d miss the conversion, his second miss in what would be a poor goal-kicking display by his standards.
Then with a quarter of the match to play Bryan Habana reminded of his class with a devastating break that opened up the right hand side of the field. The ball was intelligently worked to Jean de Villiers on the wing and the Springboks’ captain bulldozed his way over the last defender to score. Steyn missed again, and England got themselves back into contention with two Farrell penalties
But the Springboks never looked in serious danger of surrendering their recent dominance over England. Their cause was strengthened by the impact of their reserves, all of whom were very, very good in the context of the role they were asked to play. Steyn kicked two more penalties to ease the pressure and ensure that Ben Foden’s late score was nothing more than a consolation score.
By Ryan Vrede, in Durban