It was the worst possible start to new head coach Rassie Erasmus’s Springbok coaching career. An England blitz in the first 20 minutes had the visitors up 24-3, stunning the crowd of 50,000-odd raucous South Africans.
This was an English side unlike any seen in the last two years under Eddie Jones, showing an unpredictability that had the Springboks flustered and confused.
They opened the scoring when Elliot Daly slotted a 60m penalty a little over one minute into the game. From the next kickoff they went wide from their own 22 and scored two phases later through Mike Brown in the corner. One minute being conservative, the next being hyper-aggressive. 10 points in three minutes had the Boks shell-shocked.
The ambush didn’t stop there, with two more tries built from slow forward play before the backs injected with wide attacking passing targeting the inexperienced wingers. The Bok bloodshed was on and England had a 24-3 lead that no one predicted.
It took two of South Africa’s overseas Premiership stars to lift them back from the precipice. Halfback Faf De Klerk and fullback Willie Le Roux were instrumental in constructing a 20-minute flurry of tries.
De Klerk got the first, sniping from close range after Le Roux freed Sbusiso Nkosi down the right edge. He lured English lock Maro Itoje off his line and ducked under his hesitant tackle to score. Not long after, De Klerk had a hand in Nkosi’s first try, raiding a short side and offloading in the tackle to create the overlap. An Elliot Daly blunder in goal handed South Africa their second try.
Willie Le Roux proved he is arguably the world’s best playmaking fullback with a complete maestro performance. Israel Folau may be the premier aerial specialist and a powerful runner but no one has the deft touch and supreme passing skills Le Roux possesses. Like a surgeon, he sliced England up on the edges with expert draw-and-pass decisions. Nkosi’s 11 touches for 106 running metres and five line breaks is in part a direct result of Le Roux’s play.
He crafted South Africa’s third try with some smart work down the left-hand side before scoring one himself from a lineout play on the stroke of halftime. In just 20 minutes the Springboks had erased a 21-point deficit to take a previously unfathomable 29-27 lead into the sheds.
England had no answers for South Africa’s frantic ‘red zone’ attack. Whenever they entered the opposition 22 they became expansive, playing with speed and width. De Klerk like an Energizer bunny kept the tempo high, while Le Roux on the edge made the kill shot.
South Africa’s dominance continued the quarter after halftime, as England could not get out of their own half. The weight of pressure led to a couple of Pollard penalty attempts to increase their lead.
Nothing exemplified Faf De Klerk’s influence in this game more than a 60-second passage in the 62nd minute with the game in the balance at 32-27. England had finally resorted back to keeping ball in hand and stormed down the field through wide movement.
De Klerk chopped the much bigger Chris Robshaw with a textbook grass cutter tackle before getting straight to his feet and pressuring Henry Slade at halfback on the next phase just seconds later. He dislodged the ball and forced a knock-on, winning back possession. From the scrum, the Boks looked to clear. He had little protection on the backside of the ruck with pressure coming. Digging deep for the ball, he managed to uncover it before scrambling backward and hoisting a pinpoint box kick.
The kick landed perfectly for debutante Aphiwe Dyantyi to smash Elliot Daly right against the touchline and De Klerk baited Mako Vunipola into a late shot which he received a yellow card for. Reduced to 14 men, England crumbled as South Africa scored the decisive try moments later with De Klerk running the show in the lead-up.
Eddie Jones’ wishes of a 3-0 bounce-back tour went up in smoke as their fifth consecutive loss heaped even more pressure on his side. They showed a much-improved attack but will rue ill-discipline that let the Springboks back into the game.
The worry is now the sieve-like defence that leaked 42 points against a quality attacking Southern Hemisphere side. England has relied on defence to win games in the absence of any attacking clout during the Jones era. They need to find an answer quickly to De Klerk and Le Roux or they could find themselves on the end of a 3-0 ‘Bokwash’ in the Republic.
If that happens, heaven-forbid, Jones will need a decent shield as the knives come out.
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