England keep out poor Boks
Gavin Rich
November 03, 2018

England held on for a narrow 12-11 win that will ease the pressure on their coach Eddie Jones but the Springboks will leave Twickenham after Saturday’s scrappy test match feeling that it was another game that they butchered.

Just like the Boks threw it away at Loftus against the All Blacks four weeks ago, so they did again in this game. The difference this time wasn’t that the opposition came back late in the game to steal it, like the Kiwis did in Pretoria. Indeed, it was England hanging on in the end, and on another day the referee might have ruled that a charge from Owen Farrell on Andre Esterhuizen was a penalty.

Had he adjudged that Farrell's challenge was a shoulder charge, which it most emphatically was (if that wasn’t a shoulder charge then what is?), Handre Pollard would have had an opportunity to win the game for the Boks off the last play with a kick in a kickable position.

It was a gutless decision from referee Angus Gardner, who clearly didn’t want to make a big call against the home team, and unfortunately it was just another in a long line of shoddy decisions from one of the world’s most mediocre international referees.

But while South Africans will have every right to vent at the decision, and call for Gardner to be sanctioned by World Rugby, the Boks also need to take an honest and long hard look in the mirror - this was a game where they conspired against themselves, and Gardner’s officiating should never have come into it.

The Boks should have had the game wrapped up by halftime, such was their dominance. England never got into the South African 22 until the 44th minute. Yes, that is a fact. By contrast the Boks spent long periods of the first 50 minutes of the game camped in the England 22. But they couldn’t get the points their dominance justified and couldn’t create the scoreboard pressure that was needed.


It was easy to pinpoint where the Boks went wrong. Just like Western Province in last week’s Currie Cup final against the Sharks, it started at the lineouts. The Boks had a couple of early line out sets in the England 22, but Malcolm Marx overthrew twice then, and again a couple of times later on.

There was also an England poach against the throw, and the bottom line of international rugby will not be new to Rassie Erasmus and his coaching staff - if you don’t win your own lineout ball you can’t expect to win tight matches.

This match should never have been tight given the Bok dominance in every other area, and the way they bossed it physically, but just like you can’t make a mess of your lineouts, so you need to hold onto the ball and not spill it. The tally of 10 handling errors in the first 45 minutes was lamentable and unacceptable and contributed to the Bok inability to convert the pressure.

For a long time in the first half it looked like it would just be a matter of time before the Boks would take control. By the 23rd minute England had been forced to make 59 tackles and the Boks just 16.

John Mitchell’s England defensive system is a work in progress and he has only been working with his new team for a couple of weeks. But England could feel that their first day at the office with Mitchell as defence coach was a success, with the Boks struggling to put their game together effectively in the face of a quickly advancing defence that will be much more of a handful in a couple of months than it is now.

They did make many gains though by carrying the ball through the forwards, and Pieter-Steph du Toit was again immense, as was Eben Etzebeth until he was injured later on, and Duane Vermeulen.


The Boks had the physical dominance until England, once they got a foothold in the game and the crowd in behind them, started to put it together in the second half. Doff your hats to England - they were good tactically in the second half and adjusted their game, with their kicking game being spot on after half time and placing pressure on the visitors.

It had started so well for the Boks. It looked like the perfect script being enacted when a big drive from a lineout netted a penalty in the sixth minute that Pollard kicked to make it 3-0. England were well and truly under the kosh, and their mistakes cost them on the field, just not on the scoreboard.

The Boks gained a big advantage when lock Maro Itoje was yellow carded in the 15th minute and England were reduced to 14 men. But although the Boks had all the possession and territory in the period that Itoje was off, they couldn’t convert it into points. Instead it was England who called the scoreboard operators into action with a penalty from Farrell.

It was going to take good play to break the England defence system and the try scored by Sbu Nkosi, the only try of the match, was a gem. It started with England allowing too much space for Damian de Allende, who was impressive at No12 for the Boks, and ended with some sublime handling skills from loose-forwards Siya Kolisi and Warren Whiteley putting the impressive figure of Nkosi in with the modicum of space he needed down the right touchline.

That put the Boks 8-3 ahead but by the time halftime arrived it was 8-6 thanks to another Farrell penalty. The Boks should have been about 15 points ahead, yet they were only two ahead. That was the game right there, though the Boks still had enough opportunities to nail the result in the second half too.

Unfortunately for them though they continued to make mistakes, and quite aptly it was an overthrow at a lineout that led the breakout that saw England go into the Bok 22 for the first time. In a game like this one, it was going to be one small thing that might shift momentum, and England did play with greater heart and confidence after that.

It was a long range penalty from fullback Elliot Daly that got England into the lead for the first time in the game in the 50th minute, and with the sounds of the England anthem “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” ringing out around the stadium, the Boks would have known it was going to be a challenge to win from there.


The Boks did strike back to regain the lead with a Pollard penalty in the 67th minute. It was an important kick as England were picking up impressive momentum at that point and were starting to expose the Bok defence out wide. But then came England’s one good scrum in the match, and Farrell kicked his team back into the lead.

Pollard had a chance to win it in the 77th minute with a long range attempt that glanced the right upright, and but for some abysmal refereeing - Gardner missed quite a bit in those last minutes when the Boks were on attack - he should have had another chance a few minutes later.

The Boks can only blame themselves though that it came to that. They should have been far enough ahead to be coasting by that stage.


England - Penalties: Farrell (21, 38, 73), Daly (51)

South Africa - Try: Nkosi (33), Penalties: Pollard (7, 68).

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