Springboks pull away from brave England

02nd Jun 2007, 20:03

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Try Time: Bakkies Botha gets away from Mathew Tait to score

Try Time: Bakkies Botha gets away from Mathew Tait to score

The Springboks, after trailing at half-time, powered past an English side that had put up a brave fight, winning 55-22 in Pretoria on Saturday.

The Springboks, after trailing at half-time, powered past an English side that had put up a brave fight, winning 55-22 in Pretoria on Saturday.

The English managed only three points in the second half, whilst the Springboks' physicality and pace were to prove too much, as they ran in six tries.

Before the match at packed Loftus Versfeld there were colourful dancers - all the fun of the fair, a great folk feast. But that first half was no waltz for the Springboks as they bumbled about, doing their best to help England avoid embarrassment and ended trailing 19-17 at the break.

In Bloemfontein the Springboks had had a good first half and a great finish. They scored seven tries. In Pretoria they had a good second half and some great finishing. They scored eight tries.

In both matches England scored just one try. That their scoreboard looked better was part of the Springbok bungle. The CJ van der Linde-Jonny Wilkinson combination gave England their first nine points. Then Bryan Habana was penalised and sent to the sin bin for a deliberate knock on - and that made 12 points. Add to that the passing as the Springboks spread across the field in a chain and threw the ball towards one another. Pierre Spies shuffled sideward and flipped the ball outwards - and Dan Scarbrough intercepted and raced off over the half-way line to the Springbok posts. That was the try that gave England the lead at the break.

The Springboks were noticeably sharper in the second half when Ruan Pienaar came into scrum-half. He got into position more quickly and his passing was much quicker and more accurate. Mind you, by then the game was up for England.

South Africa scored more points than England and yet there was a sense in which England were the victors. They showed how pride and determination can still turn matches. They were not in the Springboks' class as players but they swarmed about, tackling with a frenzy, competing at the breakdown with intent. Their intent defence is what gave them a winning chance in the first half, but only in the first half. And some of their players proved their great worth, especially loose forwards Ben Skirving and Nick Easter. If the Springboks had scored more points than they did justice would not have been done to the bravery of the England effort.

The first kick-off of the match looked ominous for England. Easter knocked it on and Roy Winters played it to concede a penalty. Percy Montgomery's kick was straight enough but short. In fact if South African kicking had been 100 per cent as it was in Bloemfontein they would have scored more points than they did in Bloemfontein.

Montgomery's next kick, when Matt Stevens was penalised for handling in a ruck, was successful and South Africa led 3-0 after four minutes.

But the very first scrum collapsed and CJ van der Linde was penalised, one of two penalties against South Africa at the scrum. Wilkinson goaled. 3-3 after 9 minutes. England could have taken the lead but Wilkinson missed a chance when Akona Ndungane was penalised for holding on at a tackle.

The Springboks conceded two penalties and a free kick at scrums and actually lost a scrum against the head. They also lost two line-outs in the first half. That was not the way to establish forward dominance.

South Africa did not look like breaking the English defence till they got a freakish try. The ball from a tackle/ruck was slow and Januarie lobbed it down towards the England line with Montgomery in hot pursuit. The perverse ball bounced - backwards over the head of Montgomery and into the arms of Januarie who scored. 10-3.

Van der Linde was penalised at a tackle. 10-6.

Ndungane set up the position for the first try of the match. He raced away on an overlap, chipped and chased. Mike Brown knocked on, which gave the Springboks a five-metre scrum. They shoved England back. Spies drove and then Burger swooped in low to score. Montgomery converted from the right corner. A complacent people said, the big victory is on its way.

Overconfidence has ever been the besetting sin of South African rugby and it looked as if it would again teach the lesson of humility and respect.

Van der Linde was penalised at a ruck. 17-9. Habana was penalised for a deliberate knock-on. 17-12. Scarbrough intercepted and Wilkinson converted. 19-17 to England.

Habana's yellow card evoked Loftus anger but his action of hitting his left hand at the ball was certainly not of somebody trying to catch the ball as England raced into a good position to score a try.

The second half was different. Suddenly the Springboks upped the tempo. They got quick ball at the tackle and distributed quickly, running sharply and at pace till after several phases lock Victor Matfield sent lock Bakkies Botha over for a try. 22-19 to South Africa.

Bryan Habana came back from the sin bin to loud Loftus cheers.

When Schalk Burger tackled Skirving without using his arms, Wilkinson made it 22-22. Three tries to one, but 22-22.

Two minutes later Spies again showed us his magic. In the first half he went blind from a scrum and with little room to manoeuvre broke away from two Englishmen. He went one better. The Springboks were attacking but England seemed to have all bases covered when suddenly Spies burst and strode and accelerated and swerved past four would-be tacklers to score under the bar. 29-22.

Now it was hard for England.

It was harder still two minutes later when Skirving passed to his right and Habana, inside his 22, accepted the gift and raced off 80 metres to score the try that Loftus Versfeld loves. Montgomery converted and in two minutes the Springboks had scored 14 points,.

They could have had more as they bashed at the England line with just a bit better judgement but when Montgomery came racing in to take a short pass from Januarie they got one and led 43-22 with 15 minutes to play.

They could have had another when John Smit broke down the short side and sent Juan Smith running free but he opted to kick ahead with Januarie paddling up on his inside with a free run to the line.

Habana's second try was a gem. He ducked under two and started weaving. Faced with Nick Abendanon he feinted inside and went outside and gave the new England cap from Johannesburg no chance of getting within touching distance.

There was time in the last six minutes for one more as Bob Skinstad burst ahead and gave to Spies who skipped and strode and went off to score his second try, which Butch James converted.

Man of the Match: There were two obvious candidates - the two two-try men, Bryan Habana and Pierre Spies. Spies played for 80 minutes, Habana for 70. Spies's contribution was non-stop. Our Man of the Match is Pierre Spies.

Moment of the Match: Hard in a match of nine tries but it would be fair to call it a deadheat between Pierre Spies' first try and Bryan Habana's second try.

Villain of the Match: Nobody at all.

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