Boks sign off with some style

2008-11-23 00:00

SPRINGBOK fans will be hoping that Peter de Villiers does not, over the summer months, decide to shift back to the loose game that led to failure in the Tri-Nations, as the record 42-6 win over England should provide the blueprint for the British Lions visit.

The Twickenham result, England’s biggest defeat at the venue, was achieved with a strategy that could have come right out of last year’s World Cup campaign, with a solid defensive effort being aided by intelligent field kicking, playing from position and clinical finishing.

Against Wales, the Boks overdid the shift back to the playing style that Victor Matfield said the players wanted. After stages of the Tri-Nations where they seemed hell-bent on running everything, they seemed to switch to kicking everything.

But the over-compensation might have been understandable, just as the over-compensation back in the other direction a fortnight ago, when they played helter-skelter rugby in the first half against Scotland and nearly lost, was perhaps also understandable considering the chiding some of the players had received from management members after Cardiff.

At Twickenham, the Boks got the blend just right, and in many ways it was a return to the big win over Australia at Ellis Park. The Boks did not dominate the forward exchanges like they did that day, but they were as clinical and even though England did a lot of playing with ball in hand, the Boks always looked comfortable.

Indeed, England produced an excellent example of why the game that De Villiers was taking us towards in the Tri-Nations does not work. They were too rushed, playing the ball into blind alleys.

Afterwards England manager Martin Johnson spoke about how his team had created so many opportunities and had just failed to use them.

“I played in many games against the Springboks where we created far fewer scoring opportunities than we did today and we won comfortably,” lamented Johnson afterwards.

He is right about that. Remember how England used to be known as “Boring, boring England”? Jake White suggested recently that England should become more boring again, and while it may be questionable whether they have the players to really do that as effectively as they used to, it might not be bad advice.

England tried to play far too much rugby at Twickenham, and it played into the hands of a Bok team that reverted to the type of Rugby World Cup 2007 and earlier by basing so much around a stupendous defensive effort in which collisions were dominated and England were frustrated.

The Boks scored five tries, but they played much tighter rugby than that which led them up the creek in the Tri-Nations. Apart from their defence, the kicking game was also excellent, with Ruan Pienaar putting England under pressure with some well targeted high kicks, and the Boks generally ensuring that the playing that they did do was in England’s half.

John Smit, who has now led the Boks to six successive wins against England, all by margins of more than a converted try and many by big scores, was understandably elated with his second triumph in London.

“We’ll take this momentum into next year where the magnitude will be 10 times what it was on this tour. I’m extremely happy with what I’ve seen over the past three weeks and there’s plenty to work with for next June,” said Smit.

It was the emphatic margin of victory as much as the win that managed to ensure that the Boks get something out of this tour. England lost 28-14 to Australia the previous week, and the fact they have conceded 70 points in the last two games — and scored just 20 — puts where they stand in perspective.

Smit was right to talk about defence afterwards, and its role in the recent Bok dominance of England cannot be underestimated. If you take in the two World Cup games, there have now been three successive matches, or 240 minutes, where England were not able to cross the Springbok line.

“We were outstanding on defence today, and our scrambling defence when we were down to 14 men is not something you can practise on the training field, so it was down to heart and commitment. I was very proud of the guys,” said the Bok captain.

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