Strangely, considering that England succumbed by 14 points to Australia at roughly the same time, South Africa’s pallid performance against Scotland has got the British press sniffing a Twickenham upset this weekend.
Rob Houwing reports for Sport 24 that Certainly, there were few kind words in the broadsheet newspapers for the World Cup champions after they sneaked in 14-10 against Scotland at Murrayfield.
“South Africa were poor … inanely so at times,” said Mark Palmer bluntly in The Times.
In the Daily Telegraph, meanwhile, Rob Wildman wrote that “an inspired Scotland pack showed England that South Africa are beatable on Saturday”.
He said the Scots were “the dominant team and earned more possession and territory thanks to the heroic work of their forwards.
“They matched the Springboks for physicality like Wales had done in another gallant but losing attempt last week.”
Wildman, like other critics, was baffled by wing wizard Bryan Habana’s loss of form.
“Habana endured two embarrassing moments when he clumsily spilt passes and looks far from the confident player who gained rave reviews in France last year.”
The Observer reserved much of its scorn for Bok coach Peter de Villiers. Michael Aylwin wrote: “The eccentric quotes have poured forth, outsiders delighting as De Villiers launches off down ever-weirder avenues of contemplation, the fruits of which will surely soon have a website of their own.
“In South Africa, though, the worry is that his verbal meanderings are matched by a woolly rugby philosophy and a team who do not know their own mind … still less his.”
Perhaps a little more reassuringly for the Boks, who laboured collectively in the front row against Scotland, the Daily Telegraph revealed in a separate piece that England’s formidable loosehead prop, Andrew Sheridan, had a neck injury and that his fitness would “be gauged this week”.
It may also explain to some degree why Sheridan had an unusually tough day at the office against the Wallabies’ limited Al Baxter – an old “bunny” of Os Du Randt’s — in the 28-14 defeat.
What the UK press reports failed to mention, too, was that several key Bok engine-room stalwarts like John Smit and Bakkies Botha have had precious little game-time since recovering from long-term injuries and are only building up to peak performance levels.
Smit’s enforced and ironic return to the hooker’s spot from tighthead early in the Murrayfield Test also did little to ensure decent Springbok continuity.
The papers also neglected, by and large, to laud some Bok players who did stand up to be counted against Scotland and played influential roles in ensuring the game wasn’t actually lost.
Victor Matfield, for one, had one of his most industrious all-round games for a while, Juan Smith played the sort of whole-hearted 80 minutes he was renowned for at the 2007 World Cup, and Adi Jacobs once again demonstrated how his defensive game has developed in leaps and bounds in midfield.
But at least the home press haven’t got universally behind Martin Johnson’s rebuilding job with England: Chris Hewett, rugby correspondent for The Independent, lambasted the former World Cup-winning lock for under-estimating the scrum as an area for attack.
“(The game against Australia) was a match in which a Wallaby front row – yes, a WALLABY front row – used the set piece as a launch-pad for victory: something that had not occurred since Ned Kelly was running amok in his homemade helmet.”Tweet