Siya Kolisi leads South Africa to thrilling victory over England
Siya Kolisi celebrated becoming South Africa’s first black Test captain by leading his country to a thrilling 42-39 triumph over England on Saturday in the first Test in Johannesburg.
The Springboks’ expected renaissance under Rassie Erasmus took a while to get going but when it did, it was met with thunderous approval.
The Boks came from 24-3 down to win the opening Test against England and although they dominated the middle stages of the match they were required to hang on grimly at the end against a game England team.
For those who didn’t strap in properly the first half of this match would have been a bone jarring and nerve rattling experience as both sides experienced distinct periods of dominance.
When the pendulum swung it did so with some force.
Yes, there were times both defences abdicated responsibility but such was the commitment to attack that gaps were eventually going to be punched open.
England, and then South Africa displayed unbridled commitment to attack but it was the visiting team who struck all the telling blows in the first quarter.
The Ellis Park crowd can be a boisterous lot but they fell eerily silent as advanced upfield and on the scoreboard.
The crowd grew restive and soon they were given reason to smile as scrumhalf Faf de Klerk delivered a rousing home coming.
De Klerk zipped around Ellis Park with zest and zeal. He first teased, then tormented England’s defence around the fringes and even his teammates had trouble keeping up.
By speeding up ruck ball if afforded some of the Boks’ heavy hitters to make inroads.
Damian de Allende, Jean-Luc du Preez and Duane Vermeulen were starting to make inroads and by drawing in England defenders the Boks too eventually found space on the periphery.
As De Klerk, who has honed his skill with the Sale Sharks in Manchester over the last year or so, kept England back pedalling it was another Shark who profited out wide.
They mostly hit to the right and it was on that wing where S’Busiso Nkosi richly profited from the surfeit ball that came his way.
Nothing arrived on a platter though, and the sturdily built Shark had to make his physique count when the English came calling.
England however were more incisive and organised in the opening quarter.
The England the Boks ran into initially was more the vintage that won 18 in row after the last World Cup, and less the mob that lost four in a row coming into this clash.
Their combinations, more established and battle hardened in the furnace of Test rugby looked more composed. In that period the Springboks looked every bit a team that just dropped off the assembly line.
They were stunned in the opening minutes. They were still coming to terms with the kicking range of Elliot Daly when Mike Brown, wriggled out of a Handre Pollard tackle before stretching beyond the last defender for a stadium silencing try.
Flyhalf George Ford was pulling all the strings.
Ford lingers longer on the ball than most in his position, but instead of being crunched in the tackle, he is adept at putting those around into space.
The visitors cleverly shifted their point of attack in the opening minutes and they profited from the space the Boks defence allowed them on the periphery.
The Boks’ narrow defence was found wanting.
Their turnaround however was quite spectacular as they grabbed the lead by the 38th minute. England hung in there though, and they’ll be back for more next week.
The Boks though can breathe easy. For now.
SOUTH AFRICA (29) 42
Tries: S’Busiso Nkosi (2), Faf de Klerk, Willie le Roux, Aphiwe Dyantyi. Conversions: Handre Pollard (4). Penalties: Pollard (3).
ENGLAND (27) 39
Tries: Mike Brown, Elliot Daly, Owen Farrell, Maro Itoje, Jonny May. Conversions; Owen Farrell (4). Penalties: Elliot Daly, Farrell.
Additional reporting by AFP