South Africa lay waste to England’s foundations
Watching the opening 20 minutes of England’s opening fixture on their tour to South Africa, you’d have been forgiven for thinking that the clock had reversed and taken you back to late 2016/early 2017. Back then, Eddie Jones’s side were looking to topple the All Blacks from their throne; all they needed to add was a bit of attacking flair and pace to the game, whilst maintaining their brutal winning mentality and generally rock-solid defence. At 24-3, that opening quarter on Saturday had everything England could possibly have been looking for.
George Ford was ripping the hosts’ defence apart with a range of exquisite passes. The outside backs were linking beautifully, exploiting the gaps that had been created. In quick succession, Mike Brown, Elliot Daly and captain Owen Farrell crossed for converted tries, complemented by a monstrous Daly penalty. South Africa had only a penalty in response, but that was all about to change. The pace of the game, whilst useful for the visitors in attack, seemed to have them at sixes and sevens when they finally had to defend. Faf de Klerk was devastating on his return to the international fold as he got his side back into the game with a try. That – combined with two tries for debutant S’busiso Nkosi and one for Willie le Roux – helped South Africa to a surprising 29-27 half-time lead.
The pattern continued after the break. Avoidable errors that weren’t rectified and the endless penalties (Eddie Jones can whinge all he wants; the vast majority were caused by his side’s stupidity) were killing England. Another try for the hosts, alongside two penalties, made the task even tougher for them. They did manage another two tries through Maro Itoje and Johnny May to make it 42-39, but it was not enough to defeat the Boks on Rassie Erasmus’s first game in charge.
Much has been made of the loss. However, a victory would have been seen as an upset in a tough stadium to visit. More troubling is the manner of the loss. Leading by that much and throwing it away is a disaster. It was unbelievable the lack of leadership in the forwards to slow the game down as soon as South Africa started to ease their way back into the game and kill their momentum. Positives from the opening will be taken, but hopes of a series win will be dead in the water unless discipline is sorted out and the side become more adaptable during a game. The dice needs to be rolled and we need to start seeing the side Jones intends on taking to the World Cup playing together sooner rather than later.
What happened elsewhere?
It was a mixed weekend for the Northern Hemisphere teams, with some pleasing results, but more were very disappointing.
Ireland had such an unstoppable momentum arriving at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane. A series win was being targeted, which they will now do well to get after coming off distinctly second best against Australia. The tourists also struggled with their adaptability as their usual possession-based game struggled to break down the hosts’ resolute defence. Australia showed the only creativity in the game and thus won 18-9.
The Welsh were the success story of the weekend as they beat an Argentina side full on confidence after the form of Jaguares in Super Rugby. The visitors put in a dominant performance, scoring tries through James Davies and George North in a 23-10 victory.
Over in New Zealand, an impressive first half by France (they led 11-8) gave way to a horror show in the second as they were beaten 52-11. They can feel rightly aggrieved due to some big decisions (see villain of the week), but I’m not sure they would have been able to live with the All Blacks in that mood anyway.
After a stuttering start, Scotland came away comfortable victors in Canada. The experimental side scored seven tries in a relatively routine win against their hosts. Meanwhile, Italy fell apart in the second half against Japan to lose 34-17.
The U20s Championship’s group stages were completed on Thursday evening. England ensured they were seeded top with another bonus point victory against Scotland. They will face South Africa, who edged Italy and Wales to be the best second placed team, in the semi-finals. The other will be contested by New Zealand and hosts France.
Hero of the week
The way that he returned to represent South Africa after a long absence and was probably the biggest factor in their victory means that Faf de Klerk gets the award this week. Maro Itoje will be sick of the sight of him as he was a constant nuisance that he just didn’t know how to deal with.
Villain of the week
Heads have to be protected and the stringent laws on high tackles must be applied consistently and fairly. I can’t really understand the inconsistencies from game to game, but I guess referees are different and do see different things in different ways. However, how such a major inconsistency in the same game can happen in completely unfathomable. Given that Paul Gabrillagues was given a yellow card by Luke Pearce for a tackle around the shoulders, the fact that Sam Cane and Ofa Tu’ungafasi escaped by only conceding a penalty for a double shot to the head was an absolute joke.
Try of the week
I shall give England some respite here, given the slating they have received and having selected an Englishman as the villain to boot. When they were on fire they were unplayable in that first half and the running lines and support, complemented by the perfectly timed and placed passes meant Owen Farrell’s effort gets the award.
What does your starting team look like for next week?
What are the main areas England need to work on?
Who will win the U20s tournament?
What are your thoughts on the other Six Nations sides and their respective starts to their tours?
by Joe Large