Cape Town – Yes, they may well have been diddled out of a stoppage-time, highly-goalable and thus probably match-tilting penalty.
Australian referee Angus Gardner spared himself inevitable hostility from the vast majority of an 80,000-strong crowd by somehow decreeing that England’s Owen Farrell had tried to execute a legitimate tackle – rather than the rank coat-hanger no doubt adjudged by the lion’s share of South Africans – on a thundering Springbok substitute Andre Esterhuizen.
By blowing the final whistle instead, even after a television perusal of the incident, Gardner ensured that the host nation (though give them rich credit for their fighting spirit) nicked a 12-11 victory at Twickenham, simultaneously getting the four-game Bok tour of the northern hemisphere off on the wrong foot on Saturday.
While heated debate will rage for some time around the 83rd-minute flashpoint, there is also a strong case for saying South Africa really lost this one for themselves a whole lot earlier – like when their seriously pronounced first-half dominance, blighted by infuriating mistakes at crucial times, only led to a tenuous two-point advantage at the break.
That was all the motivation an essentially moderate England side needed to believe a jail-break was feasible, and they duly gained enough traction in the “second forty” to eke out the result in their favour.
Based on the full weight of the disappointingly tepid contest, the wrong side arguably lost, and there were genuine positives to bank by the Boks in multiple areas of play … yet all that will matter when the history books are examined is that England earned a second Twickenham success over these foes (the last in 2016) on the trot.
But if any South African, a little further up the line, is going to come up with one of those “ah yes, that was the game where …” sort of lines to sum it all up, it is bound to include reference to the Boks’ highly expensive, attacking lineout woes.
With the English staggering on the ropes at varying times, to borrow boxing parlance, hooker Malcolm Marx was guilty of a string of overthrows when aiming deep that allowed the home team the liberty of exit and a chance to catch much-needed breath.
The Boks, imperious through their broad pack dominance in the first half and Damian de Allende’s inspiring surges up to and often enough over the advantage line, also made handling – or in-contact turnover – gaffes at inconvenient times.
Yes, this was one that wiggled away, leaving us scratching our heads anew over where they really are in their pre-World Cup 2019 development …
Here’s how I rated the Boks at Twickenham:
Damian Willemse: 6.5
Very decent baptism at fullback. Defensively solid and alert, positional play was sound and had one appealing counter-attacking run involving some of his famous swerving. Overcooked one kick straight into touch.
S’bu Nkosi: 7.5
Bright as a button at right wing, including some amazing contestation (and winning) of aerial balls and a general, ceaseless willingness to get stuck in. Took the only try of the match well, too, from very tight space out wide.
Jesse Kriel: 6
Fewer ball-in-hand opportunities than his midfield partner savoured, but Kriel stuck to his guns well enough, often coming up quickly but with clever timing on defence.
Damian de Allende: 7.5
One of his best Test matches. Was a constant menace to the English defence in the middle of the park with his spirited, yards-gaining carries (an impressive 15, according to the stats-keepers), including nice angle changes at times through devious use of his feet. Did lose a ball or two in contact.
Aphiwe Dyantyi: 6.5
Similar work ethic to his wing ally, really. Not afraid to mix it at close quarters or in aerial challenge, and made a pivotal incursion from the opposite side to help set up Nkosi’s touchdown.
Handre Pollard: 7
Not the kind of performance (though you could have said that about several team-mates) where he deserved to be on the losing side. Much that was authoritative and confident about his play at No 10, and his 76th-minute, long penalty that might have won the match cruelly met the paint on the outside of the right upright.
Ivan van Zyl: 6
The scrumhalf put some of the pre-match cynicism about him to rest: he was closer to a surprise package, really, with his crisp service, tenacious scrambling and some quite well-executed box kicks. Admittedly there was little in the way of X-factor …
Warren Whiteley: 6
His excellent hand skills came into play a few times – including as lightning-quick, last passer in Nkosi’s try. Jury may stay out, however, over whether he is the answer, ahead of Duane Vermeulen, at No 8. Conceded costly penalty for interference in air at a lineout.
Duane Vermeulen: 6.5
More than respectable in his “conversion” to blindside flank, including keeping his reputation for safe hands in high-ball collections and making firm tackles … including a key one on a rampaging Maro Itoje. Some will argue he should return to his best berth by career reputation, though.
Siya Kolisi: 5
One of the quieter Tests in recent times by the skipper, in truth. Decision-making warranted scrutiny on occasion, too – like when Boks opted for lineouts (a fragile area) when a scrum might have been a wiser option.
Pieter-Steph du Toit: 6.5
Change of jersey number after several storming showings at No 7 … and his second-row return was compelling enough. Especially prominent as Boks built first-half head of steam with his busy work-rate, and stole an England lineout.
Eben Etzebeth: 6
Little bit of a Twickenham bogey developing for Etzebeth injury-wise, isn’t there? Well policed by England when he tried to drive, but did help powerhouse Bok scrum. Won a hold-up maul turnover decision two minutes after halftime, but in same incident did some ominously uncomfortable-looking leg/ankle damage and hauled off.
Frans Malherbe: 6
Not that active in general play, but stuck to his guns admirably at his core area of scrumming, where Boks had iron grip at times.
Malcolm Marx: 4
Won’t remember this fixture too fondly, alas. His overcooked lineout throws (some of the closer ones went awry, too) were an Achilles’ Heel for the Boks, and he wasn’t quite as conspicuous as usual in open play or on the deck, either.
Steven Kitshoff: 6.5
Gave his starting English tighthead rival Kyle Sinckler a gruelling time in the scrums, even if we didn’t see too many of his trademark strong carries.
Thomas du Toit: 6.5
Replaced Kitshoff on the loosehead side in 64th minute and quickly injected his tight-loose physicality into proceedings. Helped mastermind one awesome, go-forward scrum, too.
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing