The day Peter de Villiers' Springboks silenced Twickenham

Former Springbok coach Peter de Villiers, left, with former captain John Smit.
Former Springbok coach Peter de Villiers, left, with former captain John Smit.
Image: GALLO IMAGES/ DUIF DU TOIT

It was with some trepidation that I got onto a west-bound train for Twickenham the day before my birthday in 2008. The Boks were due to meet England on another crisp, grey autumn’s day. 

On my last visit to the concrete behemoth that towers high above the treeline in southwest London, England handed the Boks as close as it gets to a whitewash in a Test.

This was five years and 364 days since that fateful afternoon, and while the Bok Class of ’08 was a far better vintage than the bottom of the barrel ’02, there were nagging questions about, and directed toward the touring side.

New coach Peter de Villiers had enthusiastically pressed Jake White’s Rugby World Cup winners back into action but instead of the team still basking in the afterglow of what lit up the Paris night sky a year earlier, the Boks looked a little devoid of sparkle.

Too often De Villiers had become the focus with his frequent drift off script, metaphor-mixing babble. It came as little surprise that the local scribes were out in force to catch their first glimpse of the Springboks’ first black coach at Royal Gardens Kensington Hotel. 

De Villiers was due to announce his team but almost predictably he soon drifted from the matter at hand. At some point he even referred to England’s flyhalf Danny Cipriani and ‘Capriati’ all contributing to much furrow-induced frowning.

Almost lost in all the claptrap was the actual team announcement. 

Earlier on tour the Boks were made to toil against Wales and they only scraped through 14-10 against Scotland. Fourie du Preez had partnered Ruan Pienaar at halfback against Wales but did not play against Scotland. Crucially though he was back in the team for the final surge against England.

The team also famously featured tighthead Brian Mujati who was to play the last of his 12 Tests, again coming off the bench.

A week earlier he came off the bench early to replace Bismarck du Plessis. 

It meant that captain John Smit shifted to his customary hooking role and Mujati fully expected to crack the nod a week later in the starting team against England.

However, Du Plessis’s brother Jannie, was flown in and he duly pulled the No3 jersey over his head at Twickenham with Mujati , who then had played five Tests more, again biding his time on the bench.

England, coming off a defeat against Australia were just two games into the reign of new coach Martin Johnson and while he was yet to bed down his blue print, he would almost certainly endow them with bulldog fighting spirit against the Boks.

On match day it was Cipriani who put an early mark on proceedings when a clever grubber led to a Bok error and penalty and the hosts grabbed the early lead.

‘Swing low, sweet chariot” bellowed from the terraces but soon Pienaar added a penalty of his own. 

Danie Rossouw then crossed to hand the Boks the initiative, before Pienaar made his way over to help hand the visitors a decisive 20-3 advantage at the break.

Adrian Jacobs, Jaque Fourie and Bryan Habana added tries as the Boks continued to dazzle en route to a resounding 42-6 win. 

It was by far Pienaar’s most authoritative performance in the Bok No 10 jersey and by the time he made way for Francois Steyn in the 64th minute, his job was done.

Despite copping two yellows cards it was a day in which the Boks silenced ‘Swing low...” and what a sweet silence it was.


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