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By David O’Sullivan*
Let’s first deal with the big talking point in the Springboks’ 11-12 defeat against England at Twickenham on Saturday. As the clock signalled full-time, England flyhalf Owen Farrell’s hit on Andre Esterhuizen was illegal and South Africa should have been given a penalty. Social media is ablaze with South African indignation that the Springboks were denied the opportunity to win the match.
It was a match South Africa didn’t deserve to win, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t deserve the last-gasp penalty from referee Angus Gardner. But that’s the way Test matches sometimes go – the team that doesn’t deserve to win is the victor. Just look at the two Rugby Championship Tests between South Africa and New Zealand this year. On both occasions, in Wellington and in Pretoria, the winning side burgled the victory when all the match statistics showed they should have lost.
The same is true of England on Saturday when the home team carried out a smash and grab, as the London Sunday Times headline writer put it. England defended gallantly, having to make 164 tackles, 51 more than South Africa. England had less territory (41%) and less possession (36%) than their opponents. Yet they won.
On the issue of the controversial non-penalty, the outspoken TV commentator and rugby columnist Stuart Barnes referred to the incident as “hugely controversial”, saying Farrell quite clearly hit Esterhuizen with his leading right shoulder and Gardner should have given Pollard a chance to seal a belated victory.
Rugby writer Stephen Jones said Gardner’s conclusion that Farrell’s arm had wrapped around Esterhuizen was nonsense, suggesting the arm movement was more of a reflex action as Farrell made the hit.
This by Stephen Jones in the Sunday Times of London. pic.twitter.com/EIJUlUc94S
— Kevin McCallum (@KevinMcCallum) November 4, 2018
It’ll forever be a hotly debated topic. England coach Eddie Jones called it “a good solid tackle”, while Rassie Erasmus was being sarcastic when he said it was a good tackle “because I haven’t seen Andre Esterhuizen being tackled like that in a while.”
England were fabulously fortunate. This game should have been wrapped up by half-time. South Africa was dominant in the first half, playing most of the rugby in England’s half, enjoying 76% of the territory with Pollard and Damian de Allende being particularly impressive.
The massive Springbok pack didn’t quite steamroll England, and the lineout prowess was nullified because of Malcolm Marx’s horrendous throw-ins. Three times in attacking positions, he overcooked his throws and let England off the hook. This was Marx’s worst game in the green-and-gold and he even failed to be a human wrecking ball in the scrum which has become his stock-in-trade.
South Africa failed to capitalise on a yellow card when England lock Maro Itoje was sin-binned after repeated offences, messing up tries on no less than five occasions.
By the second half, England had managed to regroup and Farrell and outside centre Ben Te’o made their presence felt. A wave of white jerseys descended on the Bok lines, forcing the errors which Farrell and Daly turned into points.
In the dying minutes, it seemed maddeningly obvious to Bok fans that a drop goal was an easy option. The South Africans even had two players on the field who could do the job – Pollard and Elton Jantjies who had substituted Damian Willemse. But they decided to run it, Farrell bulldozed into Esterhuizen, Gardner choked on the decision after reviewing the slo-mo and England had ridden their luck to beat their old foe.
Eben Etzebeth left the field early with a foot injury and was replaced at lock by RG Snyman. Erasmus is not expecting his most experienced player to be ready to face France next week. “We will have to do a proper medical check on Eben but it seems like he is out for the next game,” said Erasmus.
The Springboks will play France next Saturday evening at the Stade de France.
- KayaFM breakfast host David O’Sullivan was at Twickenham over the weekend and saw first hand how the Springboks burgled defeat from victory against the English.