Good Bok news, and bad

29 November 2010 - 01:20 By Archie Henderson

Archie Henderson: Peter de Villiers must have felt like a general who suddenly has air superiority over the land battle.

It was in the air of the lineout that the Boks ruled virtually unchallenged against England at Twickenham on Saturday.

A week before against Scotland, Bismarck du Plessis could not hit the barn door that is Victor Matfield in the lineout with a shotgun. On Saturday he was like Phil "The Power" Taylor, hitting bulls and trip 20s on nomination.

England tried a long lineout, then a short one. Neither worked. It was like sending up Spitfires to intercept a squadron of F16s.

The lineout was only part of the transformation in the Springboks from one week to the next. The Boks had played to Scotland's one great strength, their rucking. England are no ruckers and their defence against a kicking game is abysmal.

Then there was the weather and the mind. South Africans still have a thing about wind and rain. A combination of the two can really unsettle them.

The mood of players is also often underrated. Scotland, really, are pushovers. For goodness sake, a week before they beat the Boks, they had collapsed to a 46-pointer against the All Blacks. Champions always maintain they are on their guard against complacency, but you wonder if the world champions didn't have more than a little of that before their recent visit to Murrayfield.

If the lineout was the mainspring of the Springboks' phoenix-like victory, there were other bits and pieces that played their parts.

Jean de Villiers, who could hardly have played worse than in the weeks before, was outstanding again. His intelligence, good hands and wonderful lateral vision were back. Ruan Pienaar, instead of taking one or two steps before passing, gave a far better service from scrumhalf.

And the referee, George Clancy, decided England were engaging too quickly at the scrums, awarded a few free kicks against them and that was the end of their pack for the day. Whether a referee should have so much control over the scrum is debatable, but for now it's there in the rules and on Saturday his rulings undermined the England eight's confidence.

As for England as a team, they were - in the words of former England lock Paul Ackford - boys against men. Courtney Lawes is a young, athletic lock forward in his first year of Test rugby. Ackford liked the look of him, and the 21-year-old from Hackney might still become the giant of English rugby as is being predicted, but until he develops that grinding ability of top Tests locks - like, say, Matfield and Bakkies Botha - he will always be just a run-around extra loosie. When old hands like Simon Shaw and Steve Thompson came on for Lawes and Dylan Hartley, the improvement to the England pack was obvious.

So much for the good news about the Springboks.

What would have concerned General De Villiers, as he surveyed the battlefield in the first half, was why his troops could not score a try with all that possession. Did he miss some of his special forces in Juan de Jongh, Jaque Fourie, Fourie du Preez and others? Could be, but for all the euphoria at Twickers on Saturday, De Villiers must also have harboured a few doubts.

subscribe