At Twickenham in London
For the first time since 2014, a 14-man Springboks became the Lords of London, and through their deserved 27-13 win against England on a cold, but heart-warming autumn Saturday night, ended their tour on the highest of notes.
AS IT HAPPENED | England v South Africa
England’s coach Eddie Jones had clearly hinted that they knew the Springboks were going to come through the front door.
That is exactly what they did as a passionate, proud and precision-like performance from the Bok forwards ensured their Twickenham bogey was well and truly smashed.
There also was Damian Willemse’s measured display at flyhalf that produced two drop goals to help floor the hosts.
The Boks survived the loss to replacement prop Thomas du Toit to an unnecessary red card in the 60th minute and five missed points off the tee by Faf de Klerk on a night where they may have been slightly scrappy, but were the better side.
England’s second home loss of the Autumn Nations series was greeted by loud boos from the 81 000 crowd who simply couldn’t will them over the line as they did last week against New Zealand.
South Africa’s forwards, and their team in general, have resilience in bucketloads. They could’ve lost their heads in the last 20 minutes, but exhibited a calm defensive composure that in the end, was too much for the hosts.
The result meant the Boks ended their tour with two wins from four games, which is a fair reflection of their developmental steps, but also the latent inconsistency they need to shake off.
The Boks didn’t start the Test very well, but once they found their stride, they were difficult to stop.
It wasn’t the best of omens when De Klerk missed six practice attempts during the warm-up, so it didn’t come as a surprise when he missed the first penalty in the fifth minute after a hard-earned scrum penalty.
Owen Farrell then missed an easier attempt in front two minutes later after England earned an offside penalty from a lineout.
Six minutes later, Farrell got his kicking bearings right when he goaled a penalty England earned from a scrum where Frans Malherbe was nailed for over-extending.
The Boks then found their scoring voice through De Klerk in the 19th minute as England flank Alex Coles was penalised for a neck roll.
If De Klerk was having an odd night with the boot, he had nothing on Farrell, who when he missed his second penalty in the 21st minute, let out an expletive that was clearly audible in the silently shocked stadium.
It was a pressure release that allowed the Boks, through two successive rolling mauls, to march into England’s 22.
In what has been a theme of their season, they were unable to convert that pressure into points as Siya Kolisi was held up over the line after a smart lineout move in the 25th minute.
England though were warned by referee Angus Gardner for their illegal maul contesting. The Australian referee got several calls right, but had a bit of a lottery at the scrums.
What wasn’t a lottery was the kicking game and it was England who blinked first in the 33rd minute when Damian Willemse, who had banged over a 31st-minute drop goal, caught a kick with hooker Jamie George in front of him.
He beat him and lock Jonny Hill and from there, the hosts were in trouble.
Willemse had Willie le Roux and Kurt-Lee Arendse as support runners and when they all combined, Arendse was left with Marcus Smith to beat, something he did with a neat side-step to score in the corner.
The Boks, who weren’t productive in England’s 22, had taken the ball from their 22 to puncture England’s defence.
They nearly did so again two minutes later when Willemse and Arendse again ran the ball out from the 22, but England’s defence was desperate.
The Boks, who until that moment, wanted nothing to do with any rugby in their half, picked and chose their moments to run.
They kept England pinned down in their half and on the stroke of half-time, De Klerk smacked over his second penalty to give the Boks an 11-point lead at the break.
England then threw on a new front row straight row and Jack Nowell on for the struggling starter Tommy Freeman, but that had no immediate impact as Willemse snapped over another drop goal in the 42nd minute.
It gave SA a 17-3 lead, but Farrell again narrowed it down to 11 points when he banged over a simple penalty, but SA again took charge.
They ventured into England’s 22 and through a series of mauls and attacking rucks, they had England’s flank Tom Curry yellow-carded in the 48th minute.
They made it count two minutes later when Eben Etzebeth crashed over under the poles, allowing De Klerk the simplest of conversions.
After England bounced back from 25-6 last week against the All Blacks, 24-6 looked very much in their range, but they needed to play rugby in SA’s half.
De Klerk then landed a 50m penalty in the 57th minute to give South Africa a 27-6 lead, but the visitors weren’t quite clean in their operations
England were handed some advantages by uncharacteristically poor handling from Franco Mostert and Willemse, but SA’s replacement front row of Du Toit, Steven Kitshoff, and Malcolm Marx offered them no respite at scrum-time.
Du Toit though didn’t last long as he was sent off for a shoulder to England hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie’s head and was rightly sent off.
It gave England much-needed momentum, and they pinned the Boks deep in their own 22, a dangerous place to be when you’re a man down.
Their defence was heroic, but the dam wall, just like New Zealand’s last week, burst in the 71st minute when Henry Slade crashed over to reduce the deficit to 14 points.
SA’s concession of that try was poor, with missed tackles on Nowell allowing England unnecessary metres.
The Boks then also lost De Klerk to injury while Siya Kolisi also had to come off for a head injury assessment.
They got through that with tactical excellence that forced England to play deep from their own half.
The hosts fluffed their lines, much like Manie Libbok when he overcooked a touch-finder after the hooter.
Libbok’s error though, had no bearing on the game as the Boks took in the adulation of a much-needed success in London.
England: 13 (3)
Try: Henry Slade
Conversion: Owen Farrell
Penalties: Farrell (2)
South Africa: 27 (14)
Tries: Kurt-Lee Arendse, Eben Etzebeth
Conversion: Faf de Klerk
Penalties: De Klerk (3)
Drop goal: Damian Willemse (2)