South Africa 36-27 England, Johannesburg
Grounds for optimism despite series loss
June 16, 2012
England struggled with the Springboks' physicality © Getty Images
The history books will show a Test series win for South Africa, and they were fully deserving of their 36-27 victory, but England's second-half performance has given them stable foundations from which they can develop and build as a side.
In coach Stuart Lancaster's words, England are a team at the start of their journey but the evident pain shown by Toby Flood and Ben Youngs at the full-time whistle when interviewed illustrated that they are itching for immediate success. For Youngs, it was his best game for England since their trip to Australia back in 2010. He finished the game with two tries to his name and never shirked the physical nature of the match with one hit on Pierre Spies exhibiting his commitment to the cause. It was Lee Dickson's shirt during the Six Nations and Danny Care is breathing down his neck, but Youngs was the catalyst behind England's resurgent performance in the second-half.
After the first 40 minutes, England were down and out. They had no answer to the Boks' physicality with their strike runners and blindside play killing England. But when Thomas Waldrom was introduced in the 46th minute, he injected the physicality they were crying out for. He took the ball into contact, wiping out some of the Boks' defenders in the process, and gave England essential go-forward. Ben Morgan was solid around the breakdown but ball in hand, Waldrom was superb.
But it was the sight of Heyneke Meyer and his coaching team laughing after Waldrom was dumped unceremoniously into touch late on that will give Lancaster reason for concern. The Boks won the contact area and that was the difference on the day. JP Pietersen's stunning run aside, it was a game that had little room for ingenuity and instead it was relentless gainline breaking runs that gave the Springboks the basis for their victory.
At the head of the Boks' attack were Bismarck du Plessis and Francois Steyn. The previous regime's decision to persist with John Smit now looks even more bizarre as Du Plessis resembled every position on the field at certain times of the game. Maurading on the flanks, Du Plessis showed an impressive turn of pace while also performing like a fetcher around the breakdown. It was a superb performance.
Steyn was also key to their game plan with accurate distribution from the centre and the odd nudge through to keep England pinned back. His namesake, Morne, had a horror show. He missed key penalties and conversions and had he slotted them - as he should do as an international fly-half, then the result would have made ugly reading for England. Individual performances aside, England will rue the first 18 minutes when they shipped three tries. You simply cannot do that in a Test match, let alone at Ellis Park.
Willem Alberts' opportunistic try got them underway so early that spectators were still finding their seats but it was a score that should not have counted. Steve Walsh was running the flag and should have picked up on the fact that the ball went through the front-row without any contact and Law 20.7 reveals the scrum should have been re-set. A very poor call from the controversial figure.
Scotland are now flying the British and Irish flag in the southern hemisphere with their two wins, but out of Wales, Ireland and England, you have to feel that Lancaster has learnt the most.
An aged Ireland side are 2-0 down against the All Blacks and despite their bullish nature in the second Test, the majority of that side will not be there in three years time in 2015. Wales are superb in the Six Nations but seem to have a mental block when it comes to closing out a match on southern hemisphere soil, but for England - who are widely perceived to be in the early stages of their development - they have a platform to build on. There were impressive individual performances but England performed in the second-half like a team thirsty for success and that will provide Lancaster with some consolation.
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