Meyer's baptism of fire
Usually reliable Steyn has off day with the boot as Springboks struggle in their lineouts and find they are often turned over on the ground, writes Sports Reporter
COMPELLING, brutal and often as static as an old-fashioned set-piece battle, the Springboks ultimately wrestled a surprisingly comfortable 22-17 victory against England in Heyneke Meyer's first test in charge in Durban yesterday, despite a late Ben Foden try.
It was evenly-contested stuff for the most part, the Boks cracking the match wide open 10 minutes into the second half with a definitive try - their first.
It was a pulsating move in which a charging Jannie du Plessis was prominent at his barrelling best. Flyhalf Morne Steyn rounded off the flow with a well-taken try in the corner and, although he missed the conversion, the five-point lead was invaluable.
The try signalled a change in the momentum of the match. Buoyed by the score, the Boks began to play their most confident rugby of the test. They were sometimes over-anxious but hammered away at the England line, the visitors being forced to tackle themselves to a standstill.
Bryan Habana sniped; JP Pietersen came close and Derrick Hougaard played his usual game full of mongrel endeavour.
The Boks scored their second try on the back of this sustained pressure, Jean de Villiers grinding out the score with customary bravery.
England, though, weren't done yet. Two Owen Farrell penalties to add to his earlier efforts meant the scores were closer than the locals would have liked. Steyn, though, secured breathing space with his third penalty in what was otherwise a mediocre kicking day for him. Still, he did enough behind a dominant Bok pack for Meyer's nerves to be settled for at least another week.
The test began with both sides' cautious. The Boks' best passage of play early in the half happened after Habana chased down what looked like a regular Steyn up-and-under; he scragged his man, and, following up, Willem Alberts - who played a blinder at flank - scavenged the loose ball.
He barged for the line and was brought down, Morne Steyn banging over the simple penalty that England conceded in infringing on defence.
The pattern was repeated fifteen minutes later. Steyn elected to heave a penalty onto the England fullback; the ball bobbled around like popping corn before it was seized by the Boks. They rampaged towards the line with Alberts and Pierre Spies prominent in the sweeping move. The Boks were unable to score a try but territorially they were in the ascendant.
This is an England team growing in maturity and self-belief, though. Not to be outdone, Chris Ashton broke the line; he hared forward, before being scythed down by an excellent tackle from behind by Francois Hougaard.
With the respective flyhalves having exchanged two penalties each, the match entered the doldrums, finding itself becalmed in an empty pattern of kicking away ball rather than running at the opposition or choosing to do anything even remotely risky.
Worryingly, from a Springbok point of view, England managed to burgle a number of turnovers in the half. They're a smart and technically accomplished side, particularly on the ground, and they fought this phase of the battle with savvy resolution, the half ending at 6-6.
As if to emphasise the see-saw nature of the game, the first major turnover of the new half was South Africa's, a Ben Young's snipe being smothered by the Bok loosies as they ground out the advantage.
South Africa 22 - Tries: Morne Steyn, Jean de Villiers. Penalties: Steyn (4).
England 17 - Try: Ben Foden. Penalties: Owen Farrell (4).