Is rugby’s Boer War over now?

Harry Jones Roar Guru

By Harry Jones, Harry Jones is a Roar Guru

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    Since the Boer War, savagery has permeated the rugby rivalry between England and South Africa.

    For reasons both understood and irrational, two brutally physical teams have held particular animosity towards each other. A loss to the English felt like a violation.

    Will it be the same, this June, as the Springboks continue their ‘transformation’? Will we see the ferocity of the last century played out again, with no quarter asked, no prisoners taken, and no kindness given?

    Or will it just be a good-hearted skills contest between two sportsmanlike teams seeking to return to the top?

    Yes, there have been skillful geniuses. Madly courageous Jonny Wilkinson cutting the Springboks with his cutlass boot, Fourie du Preez masterminding two World Cup wins against the Poms in the same tournament, and Danie Gerber slicing through the English defenders, sliding over the try line, but cleverly not dotting down, only to lope under the sticks to score.

    But most of the Tests between these teams have been snot-spattering, head-butting, how’s-your-father street fights.

    There were a few routs: the surprising 36-0 smashing in 2007 in Paris, when the eventual champion Boks swept the English aside like crumbs at a braai; and the ugly 53-3 hiding handed out by a dominant Red Rose team, to which the Boks responded in disgraceful ways.

    This rabid rivalry is not even, as the far calmer Wallaby-Bok ledger is: the teams have played 38 times, with only 13 wins for England, and an average score of 21-16 to the Boks. That’s not a record skewed by dodgy home referees or pre-readmission wins: in the last 13 Tests, England has only won once (the last time, and that was against hapless Allister Coetzee, who couldn’t find a way to beat Italy).

    But for some reason, every single loss to England is remembered as if a relative was mugged. Three of them happened in South Africa. In 1972 in Johannesburg, in 1994 in Pretoria, and in 2000 in Bloemfontein.

    But never a series. Never.

    Eddie Jones

    Photo: AFP

    Eddie Jones is having a tough run, but he knows if he ‘beats history’, it will all be forgiven.

    He’s already doing his thing. He told the journos he expects South Africa to be highly motivated because of “cultural issues” between the countries, highlighting a “dislike of the English”, and maintaining his side will whitewash the Boks 3-0.

    England will have 15 rampant Exeter and Saracen players back. South Africa’s new coach, Rassie Erasmus, has pulled a couple of England-based stars, too: Sale’s Faf de Klerk and Wasps’ Willie le Roux, who have always used guile more than muscle. (Overseas battering rams Duane Vermuelen and Bismarck du Plessis might provide that ballast.)

    Jones says it will all be different, because he understands “the South African rugby psyche as well as any”. For him, it’s about exploiting animosity.

    “How can you use their dislike of the English to create an opportunity for yourself because you know at Ellis Park they will be unbelievably passionate and aggressive for the first 20 minutes,” he asked, rhetorically.

    His young flanker, Tom Curry, put it this way: “At every age group South Africans just want to smash the English.”

    So, how will England use Bok aggression against Erasmus and his new captain, Siya Kolisi? Is that even relevant, now?

    The packs will be about the same size, obviously. While Bismarck and Thor may have grown up with an anti-English ethos, will that hold true for Lukhanyo Am, Sbu N’kosi, and Aphiwe Dyantyi? Who knows?

    Erasmus is preaching “balance”. A return to rock-hard Saffa defence, where every player would prefer amputation than give up a try; allied with faster realignment and mismatch locations.

    But can he find a backline that really fires?

    Jones is talking up psychological warfare, mentioning Brighton whenever he can, and assuring the world that the Boks are “full of hatred” for the English and planning rugby jiujutsu.

    But can he find a loose trio that can compete at the breakdown?

    In a fascinating match-up of talent-rich heavyweights who have been in a slump, but are always just a match or two away from greatness, England will tour the Republic and seek to find the heroic ghosts of 1972, 1994, and 2000, but go further, by taking a series from the vulnerable Boks with so many new faces, perhaps less belligerent than prior vintages.

    In 1972, on the plane to Jo’burg, captain John Pullin told prop Mike Burton: “Mate, when you get out there, it’s going to be hard.” Burton later said his skipper had been too kind. “You’re playing on the high veldt, the pitches are rock hard, the grass burns your legs, and the dust goes up your nostrils every time you get smashed into the ground.”

    When he saw the size of the Boks forwards up close in the tunnel before the first Test, Burton thought “Christ, what’s going to happen here? It ain’t ever going to be worse than this!”

    Is that still true?

    Will the grizzled Sarries forwards worry about being overpowered by Rassie’s new Boks? Has club rugby already claimed a Test scalp, by dulling the electricity of ‘sports hate’ which fuels every rivalry?

    Is there still life in this old contest? What new chapter is about to be written?

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    The Crowd Says (59)

    • Roar Guru

      May 30th 2018 @ 9:24am
      Ralph said | May 30th 2018 @ 9:24am | ! Report

      Am I right in thinking the poms will have the advantage in test caps?

      If the English win that first test, do these young Boks have the mental stamina to brush that aside?

      If the Boks win the first test will we see Eddie explode live on TV?

      Bismarck and Thor are back – yay!

      (kid in a candy shop)

      • Roar Guru

        May 30th 2018 @ 9:37am
        Harry Jones said | May 30th 2018 @ 9:37am | ! Report


        1/ Probably

        Here’s a likely Bok 23 for Test 1

        Probably the Bok 23 vs ENG

        1. T Mtawarira
        2. B Du Plessis
        3. W Louw
        4. RG Snyman
        5. PS. Du Toit
        6. S Kolisi
        7. JL Du Preez
        8. D Vermeulen
        9. F De Klerk
        10.H Pollard
        11. A Dyantyi
        12. F Steyn
        13. L Am
        14. S Nkosi
        15. W Le Roux

        16 Bongi or Akker
        17 S Kitshoff
        18 T Nyakane
        19 F Mostert
        20 S Notshe
        21 C Wright
        22 R du Preez
        23 W Gelant

        2/ I think we can fight back
        3/ I think so!!!!!!

        • Roar Guru

          May 30th 2018 @ 9:50am
          Ralph said | May 30th 2018 @ 9:50am | ! Report

          So, Etzebeth, Whiteley and Marz all injured.

          What about de Allende and Kriel? Playing time together in backs might affect combinations.

          And I know you’ll be gutted that Raymond didn’t make it.

          • Roar Guru

            May 30th 2018 @ 10:25am
            Harry Jones said | May 30th 2018 @ 10:25am | ! Report

            EE, WW, MM crocked

            RR is in the squad …

            I don’t think Rassie brought Steyn in just to carry bags, and L Am was the best 13 in SA this year.

            But hell, my predictions have been kak…

            • May 30th 2018 @ 3:42pm
              Akari said | May 30th 2018 @ 3:42pm | ! Report

              Why PS du Toit to start and not Mostert?

              Is Lood de Jager injured?

              • May 30th 2018 @ 3:53pm
                Old Bugger said | May 30th 2018 @ 3:53pm | ! Report

                I would’ve thought Mostert goes into No7, where he plays for the Lions. Better still, I’d put Kolisi at No7 and Kwagga Smith at No6 and Mostert provides flank/lock cover off the bench.

              • May 30th 2018 @ 6:50pm
                Fionn said | May 30th 2018 @ 6:50pm | ! Report

                Mostert has played at lock most of the season from memory and only filled in at flank a bit.

                I think Mostert would be a fine blindside flank for the Boks too though.

                Question is, do you want to go JL du Preez in the team?

              • May 30th 2018 @ 6:50pm
                cuw said | May 30th 2018 @ 6:50pm | ! Report

                Lood out for at least a month if not more.

                i think one of the young Bulls 2nd rowers is also injured

                and the Sharks guy got banned – right?

              • Roar Guru

                May 30th 2018 @ 7:24pm
                Harry Jones said | May 30th 2018 @ 7:24pm | ! Report

                Lood is out for the season.

                I think PSDT is a Rassie guy.

    • Roar Guru

      May 30th 2018 @ 9:56am
      RobC said | May 30th 2018 @ 9:56am | ! Report

      Thanks Haaaazzzzaa!

      Now we know why EJ signed up for CT. It was a dummy pass, to get all the SA intel. Then pass it onto the Poms. Or was it collude with Koochie Koo?

      • Roar Guru

        May 30th 2018 @ 10:26am
        Harry Jones said | May 30th 2018 @ 10:26am | ! Report


        It’s great at 2 am …

    • Roar Guru

      May 30th 2018 @ 10:09am
      Machooka said | May 30th 2018 @ 10:09am | ! Report

      Excellent historical thingy read Harry… before for what promises to be a fascinating Test series, come June, in SA. Many thanks!

      Eddies’ England are already under the pump, especially having been essentially thrashed in their last outing by the Baa Baas. And, I know that English team was not a full strength side, but…

      We also know from previous encounters with Eddies’ mob that he likes to talk the talk, and it won’t be any different this time around. So that in itself makes for added interest. Spice.

      Harry, I’m rather confident that your Bok are turning a corner… and will very much take it to these English types. Three zip wouldn’t surprise me.

      Anyhow, flying in the face of that prediction, it’s gonna be a cracker series regardless of outcome. Bring it on!

      Off topic, but with similar mouthwatering anticipation… Cavs or Warriors? 🙂

      • Roar Guru

        May 30th 2018 @ 10:26am
        Harry Jones said | May 30th 2018 @ 10:26am | ! Report


        They are a five-headed monster with a Zen coach!

    • May 30th 2018 @ 10:18am
      lassitude said | May 30th 2018 @ 10:18am | ! Report

      Anglo-Boer war – not Boer war.

      After all the the Boer weren’t fighting with themselves were they ? (at least not in the intervals given for the 2 “wars”). Removing the “Anglo” allows casual observers to think that the Brits weren’t culpable.

      • Roar Guru

        May 30th 2018 @ 10:23am
        Machooka said | May 30th 2018 @ 10:23am | ! Report

        This why I come to the ROAR… to get learn! 😉

      • Roar Guru

        May 30th 2018 @ 10:27am
        Harry Jones said | May 30th 2018 @ 10:27am | ! Report

        Pardon me.
        I was boorish!
        There was also Rorke’s Drift.
        If you get my drift.

        • Roar Guru

          May 30th 2018 @ 1:18pm
          Charging Rhino said | May 30th 2018 @ 1:18pm | ! Report

          But Harry, Battle of Rorke’s drift was in 1879 during the Anglo-Zulu war ….. 😉

          • Roar Guru

            May 30th 2018 @ 7:25pm
            Harry Jones said | May 30th 2018 @ 7:25pm | ! Report

            We might need to revive the Anglo-Zulu War!

    • May 30th 2018 @ 10:57am
      Old Bugger said | May 30th 2018 @ 10:57am | ! Report

      My best wishes to the SBs and hope they come away, with a series win…..better still if its a green-wash aye.

    • May 30th 2018 @ 11:07am
      Puff said | May 30th 2018 @ 11:07am | ! Report

      Harry, in recent years the Bok’s have had the talent but perhaps not the correct coaching staff and therefore keep reverting back to a rugby style that the system is comfortable with. It will be interesting to see if the Bok’s play and expansive game or rumble up and down main street with the forwards. If EJ plans to play a 15 man up tempo expansive game, the Bok’s may struggle. Bring back players from France may not be the answer; Erasmus is the catalyst, what new innovation or direction is he planning. This will be Eddies dilemma.

      • Roar Guru

        May 30th 2018 @ 8:11pm
        Harry Jones said | May 30th 2018 @ 8:11pm | ! Report

        I think we’ll see something very similarly to Munster, but a lot faster.

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