Friday 23 February 2018

Boks power play pays off


Mick Cleary in Durban

South Africa is different -- edgy, harsh and dangerous. And that's just its rugby. The country itself is beautiful, vivid and varied. The rugby though is monochrome: mean, brutal, one-dimensional but effective. Well, if you let it be. That's what England had to deal with.

It was a Rorke's Drift stance for most of the afternoon, a rearguard action as England were pounded by wave after wave of green shirts. They anticipated the nature of the challenge by selecting two full-backs, Mike Brown and Ben Foden, to patrol the acreage at the rear, a prime target zone for the South African kickers.

The double-banking fullback ploy had logic on paper. In truth, it was a risk. The roles overlap but the positions, full-back and wing, are different. Ben Foden admitted as much in midweek. Mind you, his attacking instincts looked in good order, Foden hurtling in with the last play of the match to touch down.

For all that, Foden would rather have been where he was used to being, in the No 15 shirt worn here by Mike Brown, that edgy Harlequin talent.

He knew that kicks would be raining down on him. In fact, he wanted kicks to be raining down on him because that's his trade. When it came his way, Brown was up to the task.

There was one blip in the first half, South Africa drawing the mistake from Brown through his own impatience and desire to do as he has done for Harlequins, and counter-attack. He went for it, hesitated, then over-cooked his kick, putting it straight into touch.

There was a blob to come, South Africa centre Jean de Villiers blasting through towards the try line on the hour mark. Brown was the last line of defence -- he made a hash of it.

Of course, the heart of the battle was up front, the arena in which Springbok manhood is put on display. Part of this is myth, part reality.

Stuart Lancaster had been careful in the build-up not to spook his men with tales of bovver-boy Bokke. Far better to strip away the aura and present them as a side with a potential soft underbelly in rookie, uncapped lock combo of Juandre Kruger and Eben Etzebeth. England had to get into him. They did, but there were seven others to corral, too. The two new England boys, prop Joe Marler and flanker Tom Johnson stood their ground. Johnson got on with the job, chiselling at the coalface.

That was the task on several fronts -- to deal with the realities of playing the Boks in South Africa and not get taken in by the mythology.

However, the Springbok power game eventually took its toll. England, though beaten, were not bowed.

Scorers -- South Africa: M Steyn 1 try, 4 pens, J de Villiers 1 try. England: B Foden 1 try, O Farrell 4 pens

South Africa: Z Kirchner (P Lambie 41); J P Pietersen, J de Villiers (capt), F Steyn, B Habana; M Steyn, D Hougaard (R Pienaar 56); T Mtawarira, B du Plessis, J du Plessis (A Strauss 66), E Etzebeth (F van der Merwe 58), J Kruger, M Coetzee (K Daniel 73), W Alberts, P Spies

England: M Brown (J Joseph 78); C Ashton, M Tuilagi, B Barritt (T Flood 54), B Foden; O Farrell, B Youngs (L Dickson 73); J Marler (P Doran Jones 59), D Hartley (L Mears 76), D Cole, M Botha, G Parling, T Johnson, C Robshaw (capt), B Morgan (P Dowson 62)

Referee: Steve Walsh (ARU)

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