Pietersen strike buries England
16 Jun 2012
JON CARDINELLI, reporting from Ellis Park, writes that a late try by JP Pietersen boosted the Springboks to a 36-27 victory as well as a series win against England.
The Heyneke Meyer tenure has begun promisingly, with two victories in as many matches resulting in silverware. It is a result that should be celebrated even if this particular performance was inconsistent, the Boks producing some powerful and clinical rugby at times but then conspiring to bring England back into the contest with an unforgivable drop in intensity.
The Boks enjoyed a commanding 25-10 half-time lead but the plucky English fought back in the second stanza to bring the themselves within four points.
It would take a scything run by Pietersen in the 74th minute to take the Boks clear of England, and it was fitting that the man who started this game-winning movement was on hand to finish it when the ball was subsequently shifted to his wing.
It capped a strong performance for Pietersen, who looked for work throughout the contest. It was his individual brilliance that proved so influential, as that dazzling run from his own 10m line moved the Boks right up to the opposition 22m.
It was here that the Boks showed the power and precision of the first half, controlling the ball through the phases before unleashing Pietersen out wide for the finish.
Morné Steyn missed the ensuing conversion attempt, but Pietersen’s try ensured the Boks moved nine points clear with only six minutes remaining. The Boks were fortunate that poor goal-kicking didn’t end up costing them the result, as the Bok No 10 missed four shots at goal while Frans Steyn also sent a long-range penalty attempt wide.
The hosts were also fortunate that they had played with such power, precision and fluidity in the first half. At times that dominance was akin to a big boy bullying a much smaller one. The Boks lived up to their promise to marry power with precision, attacking the ruck and tackle area with an aggression that was only surpassed by their accuracy.
It was this platform that allowed them to build momentum through the phases, to win territory and to accumulate points. They went to the break with a 25-10 advantage and England looked to be in line for a severe hiding.
Titans like Willem Alberts and Bismarck du Plessis had given them ample go-forward, and rabid rookies like Marcell Coetzee and Eben Etzebeth had added their irrepressible energy to the cause. Inevitably, this also impacted on the game of Pierre Spies, who contributed with some ground-gaining runs of his own.
A penalty by Steyn early in second half stretched the Boks’ lead to 28-10, but thereafter, complacency crept into their game.
As good as their first-half showing was, it was marred by a defensive lapse that had resulted in a try for Toby Flood. These lapses occurred more frequently in the second stanza, and the English began to chip away at what had once seemed a solid and unassailable lead.
A monstrous scrum by England resulted in a penalty shot for Flood, and the experienced goal-kicker made no mistake. Unbelievably, the scoreline was now 31-27, and all the momentum was with England.
But a dropped ball at the subsequent kickoff provided the Boks with an opening. It allowed them to move into English territory, and even though Steyn would miss another penalty attempt, it was the field position that proved crucial in the dying minutes.
The nerves on both sides were apparent as the clock wound down. There were several deep kicks as both teams hoped for an opposition error. Ironically, it was from a poor English kick that Pietersen would spark a Bok counter-attack that won the game.
In their attempts to close the gap of nine points in the six minutes that remained, England forced the play and knocked the ball on.
It made the job of the Bok defence much easier, although it has to be said that the hosts turned in a determined tackling effort during the dying stages.
The Boks hung on for a win that handed them a series victory, and for that they should be commended. But going forward they will know that the inconsistency seen in Durban and Johannesburg will not always culminate in favourable results, and that 80-minute performances are needed to best the better Test teams.