In 2019, South Africa entered the World Cup final as underdogs. No team had ever won a final after already losing a match in the pool stages of the competition and the Springboks had suffered defeat at the hand of the All Blacks in their opening fixture. There was also the small fact that England’s form over the last six months had been simply more impressive.
The Springboks, however, had honed their trade at winning matches they had no business winning and promptly unravelled England to be crowned world champions.
You only have to look back to part-way through the prior year to see that South Africa had England’s number and even when things looked grim, they were going to let their English rivals come out on top.
England travelled to South Africa for a three-match tour in June 2018 with expectations low. Eddie Jones’ men were sitting on a three-match losing streak, having been bested by France and Ireland at the tail-end of the Six Nations and then battered by the Barbarians, 63-45.
A tour to the Republic isn’t easy even at the best of times but on the back of their current form, England were staring down the barrel of a whitewash.
History was also not on England’s side.
England has only won 23 percent of their matches against the Springboks in South Africa, with their last win occurring in Bloemfontein in 2000. Who do you think will win when England faces the Springboks again this month? https://t.co/jnmUuZhDqd #Rugby #Springboks #England
— FinGlobal (@FG_Emigration) June 8, 2018
Absolutely agree, where does that thinking come from!
— Big Ridge (@MarkRidgway1) June 7, 2018
Why is Mike Brown on the wing…. ??
— ugo monye (@ugomonye) June 9, 2018
He'll take Australia to a World Cup final, assist the Springboks to the trophy 4 years later, orchestrate a historic win for Japan over the Springboks & lead England to consecutive 6 Nations trophies.
But if Eddie Jones selects a fullback on the wing, fans will lose their shit.
— Ali Stokes (@alistokesmedia) June 7, 2018
Sir Clive Woodward wasn’t especially happy with the selection either, writing “At Ellis Park, with the home crowd baying and a few ‘bombs’ coming down from the stratosphere, I would be more than happy to see him at fullback.”
“But that’s it. For me he’s a 15 or he doesn’t play. I have seen nothing from him to suggest he can operate at the top level on the wing.”
It wasn’t Brown’s first start on the wing – but his previous runs in the 11 jersey hadn’t been roaring successes, like in the big loss to the Barbarians.
In a shock twist, however, England raced out to a big lead over Siya Kolisi-captained Springboks.
Brown, Daley and Owen Farrell all touched down within the first quarter, helping the travelling side to a 24-3 lead.
Chris Robshaw wins penalty for the first penalty.
Mike Brown finishes brilliantly for the first try.
— Tim Cocker (@cocker) June 9, 2018
Quickly, hope reappeared for the English; their run of bad luck was finally turning around.
Wow. This seems like a completely different England rugby team. Long may it continue ?#SAvEng
— Will Marsh (@willmarsh72) June 9, 2018
But then things turned to custard, with the Springboks mounting the biggest comeback in tier-1 rugby history.
By halftime, South Africa had clocked up four tries of their own and taken the lead back from the tourists. Two of those tries came from the debutant on the wing, S’busiso Nkosi.
Springboks take an impressive 29-27 lead into the break after being behind by 21 points. Absolutely great to watch, nerves have settled #SAvsENG Faf de Klerk has played a phenomenal role
— Justin Ford (@JustinFordZA) June 9, 2018
— Mike Pearce Rugby (@MPsportsdragon) June 9, 2018
This is the most bonkers game of rugby I’ve seen – and it’s only halfway through.#RSAvENG
— Des Kelly (@TheDesKelly) June 9, 2018
The home side held on their lead for the remainder of the game, with Aphiwe Dyantyi scoring the Springboks’ only try of the second half. England managed two of their own through Maro Itoje and Johnny May but the boot of Pollard ensured that South Africa emerged victorious in the 80th minute.
What a game! What a win! What a test match!!! Wow!!! Springboks beat England 42-39 #SAvENG
— Lonwabo Nkohla (@LonwaboNkohla) June 9, 2018
To complete a day of superb sporting comebacks, the #SiyaKolisi led #Springboks ?? showed huge character as they scored five tries on their way from 21 points behind to beating England ??????? 42-39 in the first test at Emirates Airline Park. #SAvENG pic.twitter.com/qrieMArVtK
— Crucial Selekta ???? (@CrucialSelekta) June 9, 2018
— Temba Bavuma (@tbavuma10) June 9, 2018
What a win for South Africa.
Collossal schtones to come back from 24-3 down. Superb stuff #RSAvENG
— Three Red Kings (@threeredkings) June 9, 2018
For that young team, to win that game from 24-3 down, was exceptional. Siya led calmly in a crisis, Duane and Willie were magnificent lieutenants, Faf buzzed and the rest roared. Wonderful wonderful wonderful. #RSAvENG #SAvENG
— Craig Ray (@craigray11) June 9, 2018
The game held extra significance because Siya Kolisi took the mantel of Springboks captain for the first time in his career. It also marked the first time ever that the team had been captained by a non-white player.
Even with all the cards falling England’s way in the first half, a Springbok side spurred on by the opportunity to write their names in the record books couldn’t be stopped.
Less than two years later, the Springboks had the opportunity to make history again in Japan when they faced up against an England side thirsting for a title.
Although England entered the game as favourites, the writing was on the wall: the Springboks wouldn’t be stopped.
Sign up to our mailing list for a weekly digest from the wide world of rugby.Sign Up Now