The Springbok women started the Nations Cup in Colorado, USA, on a disappointing note in the early hours of Wednesday morning as they went down 35-22 to the hosts at the University of Northern Colorado.
The clash was exciting from the outset with both teams showing impressive signs on attack for a total of nine tries, five by the USA and four by SA.
The USA Eagles drew first blood with prop Hope Rogers powering her way over the tryline in the fifth minute, while Sadie Anderson added the conversion and a penalty minutes later to hand her team a 10-0 lead.
Springbok centre Mathrin Simmers, however, hit back with a try in the corner to close the gap to 10-5. But mistakes at crucial times by SA on defence, and later through a knock-on behind the tryline, allowed the home team to extend their lead with back-to-back tries.
Springbok wing Marlien Cronje had the last say in the first half as she finished off a well-worked move by the team to cross the line for their second try and 20-10 half time deficit.
The team built on this form in a closely-fought third quarter with captain Mandisa Williams scoring a breakaway try, but again SA failed to convert. A loose ball following a tackle on Simmers, however, allowed the home team to cancel this out with their bonus point try in the fourth quarter for a 25-15 lead.
SA’s hopes of a victory were dealt a big blow with 10 minutes to go as lock Nomathamsanqa Faleni was sin-binned for entering a ruck from the side, which reduced the team to 14 women for the remainder of the match. The USA took advantage of this by setting up a rolling maul, which allowed Shaina Turley to dive over for their fifth try.
Despite this Springbok flyhalf Zenay Jordaan showed fantastic character to run in a fabulous 70m try three minutes from time to reduce the deficit to 10 before a last-minute penalty by the USA earned them the 35-22 victory.
Unfortunately for Springbok caretaker coach Aslam Abrahams, hooker Celeste Marais suffered a suspected neck injury, while a serious shoulder injury ended Simmers’ campaign.
Abrahams was positive despite the defeat and said his team produced a quality performance following the long journey to the US a few days earlier.
“I’m proud of the ladies,” said Abrahams. “To play a Test two days after landing in USA shows that they have the character to become a winning team. Captain Mandisa Williams, Zenay Jordaan and a few other players led by example, and the new players including Andrea Mentoor, Mathrin Simmers and Vuyolwethu Vazi followed in their footsteps.”
Looking ahead at their clash against England on Saturday, the coach said: “We need to go back to the drawing board and sort out our scrums, lineouts and penalties. We need to get on the front foot so that we can use our running loose trio effectively with our back line.”