Masochistic mayhem as Boks flourish — and then flounder
Referee’s misstep certainly cost team the game against England, but it was their self-inflicted errors that stood out
The Springboks’ northern hemisphere tour has already descended into a fiasco one game into the four-match itinerary as the tourists inflicted almost comical self-harm against England at Twickenham.
Losing 12-11 to England has put the entire trek through the grey cities and damp fields of Britain and France on the back foot because England was the main match of the tour. Losing it was a rugby disaster.
The loss was also a fiasco from referee Angus Gardner’s point of view, after his spineless decision not to award the Boks a legitimate penalty after the final hooter, when Owen Farrell shoulder-charged André Esterhuizen into next week, to the Boks’ own ham-fisted.
But even if Gardner had not been so invertebrate and awarded the penalty, Handré Pollard still had to slot it. The fact is England should have been dead and buried by half-time, such was the Boks’ dominance. The tourists did everything but round off the numerous chances they created.
And that is the infuriating thing with this Bok team. They do so much right, but they have calamitous moments that cost them games. Somehow they gave up a 17-point lead in 20 minutes against the All Blacks in Pretoria in October and at Twickenham they were at least 17 points better than England in the first half. But they only went into the break 8-6 to the good.
Gardner’s flawed decision
Hooker Malcolm Marx’s lineout throwing was as inaccurate as a club darts player after a dozen beers, which cost the Boks two possible first-half tries. But the Boks’ inability to finish has to be divorced from Gardner’s inability to make a big decision against the home team at the end of the match.
The Boks might have been their own worst enemies at times, but that does not exonerate the match officials from doing their duty and making the correct decision with so much technology at their disposal. Had Pollard slotted a penalty to win the game, the conversation about the Boks’ own shortcomings would be constructive.
SA Rugby might make complaints to World Rugby about Gardner’s officiating but it will not change the outcome. Referees are a protected species and in all likelihood the inner circle who make match official appointments will protect him as one of their own.
Bok coach Rassie Erasmus is now where many Bok coaches have been before. His side took one step forward against the All Blacks during the Rugby Championship and followed it with two steps back against an England side missing six regulars.
Erasmus’s failure to remove Marx from the game sooner than he did was a blunder for which he has to shoulder the blame. When Bongi Mbonambi overthrew a ball at a lineout in Brisbane that led to an Australia try earlier this year, he was hooked inside 35 minutes.
Marx remained on the Twickenham pitch, spraying throws around like an unattended high-pressure hose until the 71st minute. By then England had the momentum.
Marx is a totemic presence at the breakdown and in the tight loose. But this is not the first time his throwing has gone to pieces in big games and if he cannot fix it, are his other strengths enough to keep him in the team?
Erasmus clearly thought so, and so he has to take responsibility for the numerous squandered chances that saw the Boks slump to a sixth loss in 11 matches in 2018.
If they are not careful with Tests against France, Scotland and Wales to come, a record nine defeats in a calendar year are a possibility, which would make them statistically the worst Bok team yet.
Still, they look like anything but a bad team. Aphiwe Dyantyi and Sibusiso Nkosi were excellent, Damian de Allende was a vibrant colossus, while Pollard and Ivan van Zyl played a tactically smart game at halfback.
The pack was collectively superb in most areas of the game and won the physical battle for the most part.
But just when the Boks appeared to be ready to deliver the knockout blow with England on the ropes, they somehow contrived to punch themselves in the face instead.