LS Sport’s Jack Fairs on England’s defeat against South Africa this weekend…
After much criticism for his decision making last weekend against Australia, England captain Chris Robshaw did little to silence the doubters in England’s 15-16 loss to South Africa. In difficult and slippery conditions, with England 12-16 down and with 2 minutes remaining, Robshaw was presented with a pivotal decision: to kick for goal, leaving England needing one further score to win, or to kick for touch and set up a chance for a winning try. In a reversal from events last Saturday, Robshaw’s decision to take the 3 points was this time met with a chorus of boos.
England had started the game very strongly, charging down a Ruan Pienaar clearing kick and applying quick follow-up pressure to force an early penalty chance, which was spurned by Toby Flood. Undeterred, England came back again through Mike Brown, playing in a less familiar wing spot. He displayed his range of full back skills from his new position, safely gathering a South African box kick and then cutting his way through the Springboks defence with nimble feet to set up a dynamic England counter attack. After a series of powerful and direct drives England were rewarded with 3 points, only for Pat Lambie to return the favour for South Africa shortly after.
After a further penalty apiece, Lambie kicked South Africa ahead into a 9-6 lead. Still England tried to work an opening. Alex Goode, a standout performer in this series, sliced through the Springboks on the halfway line to set up a real try chance, only for Toby Flood’s grubber kick for Manu Tuilagi to run dead. Ben Youngs, starting instead of Danny Care this week, subsequently squandered another turnover opportunity, kicking possession away when England had created a healthy overlap. Squandered chances meant that England trailed 9-6 at the break.
In the second half the Springboks picked up an early try, seemingly against the run of play. After strong defence by England in their own 22, a real positive for them all game, the South Africans lost possession of the ball in contact. Alex Goode, in a wild attempt to clear his lines, hacked the ball into the body of JP Petersen, causing the ball to loop forwards into the outstretched arms of flanker Willem Alberts, who flopped over to put the Springboks into a commanding 16-6 lead. Still England fought their way back, Tuilagi breaking through to find Ashton in full flow. It is perhaps a sign of Ashton’s drop in form and confidence that he then shipped a poor pass out to Mike Brown, killing the attack, rather than backing his ability to hold off the South African defence, as he might have done 2 years ago.
The wet conditions soon played their part, leading to the errors that gave England their way back into the game. Owen Farrell, on as a replacement for Toby Flood, bringing England back to 12-16 before Robshaw gave him the order, on 78 minutes, to kick for goal. This left England 15-16 down, needing to retain the kick off and work their way back up the field, into kicking range, in hope that pressure would afford them one more kicking opportunity. However the plan failed at the first hurdle with Mouritz Botha spilling the restart into touch, handing possession and the victory to the South Africans.