In the end the scorecard didn’t look as bad as it might. South Africa beat England 22-17, but the Springboks spent much of the game camped in the English half and could have scored a couple more than their two tries.
They deserved to win, as much for their physical edge as their ability to cross the line. But England also played well, and were only undone by, according to me, two things.
I’ve mentioned the first already, the physical dominance of the Springboks. We expect that, and they finished by wheeling the scrum, seemingly at will. It was to England’s credit that they dealt with the threat well for most of the game, and only really faded towards the end.
It seems to me that they did not lose by failing to counter the South African attack, but because they did not make as much as they might of their own. They threatened on a number of occasions, but on too many they were ponderous when they had the ball (in contrast they fought well at the SA breakdown). Too often Ben Youngs seemed to just look at the ball at the base of the ruck, giving SA far too much time to regroup. Both SA tries came when they stretched the English defence with quick ball.
It is ironic that Ben Youngs produced such quick ball in his first season – the major reason he was seen as such a revelation. But Lee Dickson came in at this year’s Six Nations and picked up when Youngs began to fade. And so it was today. Youngs was too slow in distribution. Only when Dickson came on towards the end did the tempo increase enough to stretch SA and allow Ben Foden in at the corner in the dying seconds.
I don’t know what this means for the next game, but static play is the enemy of rugby. Whoever starts, Youngs or Dickson (and I would probably stick with Youngs), needs to remember that, and remind themselves that when the Boks are stretched they are vulnerable. The video is there to prove it.
The RFU called it a consolation try. It was not. It was the blueprint to beating the Springboks – that and their strong defence.