Decline of the Boks is bad for rugby, not just South Africa

Date published: November 13 2016

Not long after George Ford had scored England’s third try and they moved ahead to lead 30-9, Twickenham went quiet. Strange considering what was at stake, with an unbeaten year to protect and having not defeated South Africa for a decade.

Why no atmosphere? A clear lack of a contest on the pitch. Half an hour remained but the outcome with 50 minutes on the clock was obvious; England were going to win, and win well.

That lack of volume from the 82,500 full house indicates two things.

Firstly that England are on some run, with Eddie Jones having taken the groundwork laid down by Stuart Lancaster and turned England into a global force, alongside his talented coaching staff. Wins are almost expected, even when their performances could be better.

England were rusty for the opening 20 minutes, careless with the ball in hand at times too, and some of their work in attack was “very poor” according to Jones, as he opted to give his side a pass mark.

He was right. England have played far more cohesively than we saw on Saturday and yet despite missing several starters from the Grand Slam winning side – five plus Jonathan Joseph, who came off the bench – they defeated South Africa by 16 points, not forgetting Willie le Roux’s late try helped to ease the damage.

What the crowd’s silence really indicates is how poor the Springboks have become. Allister Coetzee stated again that the side have not lost their aura, because his players have not stopped working hard to improve.

That insistence is admirable yet wholly unbelievable. This side are not feared.

Respected as individual talents? Certainly. But they are no longer an intimidating side, as their record this year of four wins from ten Tests suggests.

Selecting four extremely capable lineout jumpers in Eben Etzebeth, Lood de Jager, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Warren Whiteley should have meant South Africa not only dominated that area but also troubled England, yet the hosts walked away with a perfect 15/15 on their own ball.

England’s kicking threat was obvious with the selection of Ford, Owen Farrell, Elliot Daly and Mike Brown, left and right boots all fully capable of putting the ball 50 metres upfield.

And despite acknowledging that danger in the days before the match South Africa failed to nullify it. England’s second try, with Ruan Combrinck and Willie le Roux at sixes and sevens following Daly’s kick, was a comical mess.

Falling twice for the same Ben Youngs dummy is as hard to forgive as conceding a try off a first-phase lineout move, even if England’s decoy runners played their roles perfectly the run-up to Jonny May’s finish in the corner.

A ten year-wait for this? No wonder the home supporters opted to head to the bar or talk amongst themselves when the result was set in stone.

This fixture had been regarded by England and their supporters as one of the toughest around, a mentally and physically draining Test against a team whose ability to impose their will on opposing sides was renowned and admired.

Watching this Springbok side struggling in it’s current state, conceding 94 points within two matches to New Zealand and England, does nothing for the sport.

England against South Africa should be a blockbuster, drawing in new supporters at a time when the sport is growing rapidly. Frankly their long-awaited triumph felt hollow.

Partly a reflection of their excellent form and resurgence under Jones, knowing they can play better but not needing to in order to win.

Pre-dominantly down to how far South Africa have fallen in such a short space of time. The sport needs a strong Springbok again. Right now that seems some way off.

by Ben Coles