Cape Town – Even though it’s three years later, Springbok fans are still basking in the glow of the 2019 Rugby World Cup final triumph over England.
The 32-12 scoreline will have been brought up this week again in banter between supporters ahead of Saturday’s Test between the two sides at Twickenham (7.30pm SA time kick-off).
But the reality is that South Africa haven’t won at the famous old ground since 2014. That was when Heyneke Meyer’s side ran out 38-21 victors, with the highlight being Cobus Reinach’s sensational try that was sparked by a Pat Lambie chip, with Willie le Roux drawing two defenders before offloading for the flying Bok scrumhalf to dive over.
The last three visits to Twickenham have ended in defeat for the South Africans, though – 37-21 in 2016, 12-11 in 2018 and 27-26 last year.
It was a disappointing Bok loss last November, with a controversial yellow card to captain Siya Kolisi – for taking out Joe Marchant in the air – with five minutes left, galvanising England for one last push, and they got the desired penalty for Marcus Smith to boot them to victory.
Replacement scrumhalf Raffi Quirke played a major role in the second-half effort, and at the end of a long international season, the home side had just enough to get over the line.
Bok coach Jacques Nienaber, though, will hope that his ‘Bomb Squad’ can make the necessary impact in the last 40 minutes to turn the last two one-point losses in London into wins.
They made a huge difference against Italy in Genoa last weekend. The world champions led just 18-13 at half-time, and lost Cheslin Kolbe to injury after the No 14 scored a try to take the score to 23-16.
But the likes of Steven Kitshoff, Malcolm Marx, Eben Etzebeth, Kwagga Smith, Reinach and Manie Libbok all played their part as the visitors scored six more second-half tries for a 63-21 thrashing.
Now the world champions need to back up that performance, though, against an England side that will have renewed confidence after their unlikely 25-25 draw against the All Blacks, having trailed 25-6 with 10 minutes to go last weekend.
The Boks were unable to pull through against Ireland in Dublin and France in Marseille despite being on the front foot for large passages of both games, ultimately going down 19-16 and 30-26 respectively.
They need to start turning those narrow defeats into victories, and that needs to start at Twickenham on Saturday.
The power of the Bok ‘Bomb Squad’ has already impacted on England’s selections, with coach Eddie Jones opting to start with Mako Vunipola and Jamie George in the front row, and opting to keep Luke Cowan-Dickie and Ellis Genge for the second half to counter Marx and Kitshoff.
Loose forward Sam Simmonds is also a mobile operator in the Smith mould, while wing Jack Nowell started last week against New Zealand and now finds himself on the bench.
Libbok will want to continue where he left off in Genoa, but some of the other new faces among the Bok replacements need to make a strong case for future selection.
Prop Thomas du Toit, flank Marco van Staden and wing Canan Moodie have a lot to play for ahead of the World Cup next year, while Jaden Hendrikse would want to remind Nienaber of his qualities, having lost the No 9 jersey to Faf de Klerk.