England held on to beat a misfiring Springbok side 12-11 at Twickenham on Saturday. JON CARDINELLI reports.
The Boks should have won this game by comfortable margin. Such was their dominance in the early stages that they should have taken control of the contest and put a depleted and misfiring England side to the sword.
As it was, they were made to regret their missed chances. The lineout was a shambles, forwards and backs struggled to hold the ball and Handré Pollard – who enjoyed a great evening otherwise – missed a potentially match-winning penalty at the death.
A lot will be made about the manner in which the game concluded. England co-captain Owen Farrell flew into André Esterhuizen with what appeared to be a shoulder charge. The officials, however, determined that Farrell had attempted to wrap his arms around the ball-carrier, and so the Boks were denied a final shot at goal.
The hosts felt the pressure in the early stages of this contest. The Boks hammered England at the scrums, and used their lineout drive to good effect.
Damian de Allende was the standout as far as breaching the gainline was concerned, while Pollard took some excellent options to keep the visitors camped in England territory for much of the half.
England conceded a lot of penalties during that period. In the 16th minute, referee Angus Gardner reached into his pocket for a yellow card. Maro Itoje was sin-binned for a cynical infringement on his own goal-line.
The Boks then conspired to let England off the hook. Malcolm Marx missed his jumpers twice while the visitors enjoyed a numerical and territorial advantage.
While the Boks continued to cross the gainline, handling errors and poor decision-making at the crucial moment prevented them from translating that momentum into points. The leadership’s decision to turn down several kickable penalties left a lot to be desired.
Indeed, it was England who scored next via the boot of Farrell. Itoje returned to the field with the score at 3-3.
Eventually the Boks earned some reward for their dominance. The visitors took the ball through the phases, and Aphiwe Dyantyi came off his wing to delivered a lightning quick pass to Warren Whiteley on his outside. The No 8 unleashed S’bu Nkosi on the outside, and the winger made the opportunity count.
Farrell was afforded another opportunity to shoot for goal in the 37th minute, though. Somehow the hosts, who had very little territory and spent no time at all in the Bok 22, went to the break trailing 8-6.
The Boks picked up where they left off. After doing so well to win field position, they conceded possession via another Marx overthrow. That mistake allowed England to escape their 22 and take play deep into South African territory.
England started to gain the ascendancy at the breakdowns, though, and took the lead via a long-range Elliot Daly penalty in the 50th minute. The game began to open up with the England backs finding space in the wider channels.
The Boks started to panic. Whiteley conceded a soft penalty at the lineout and Farrell had another chance to shoot for goal. The attempt fell short of the posts and allowed the Boks to remain within a score of the hosts.
Some desperate defence kept the England attack at bay. Replacement prop Thomas du Toit won a crucial breakdown penalty in the 67th minute to give South Africa the opportunity to regain the lead. Pollard, who was one of the few Boks who were magnificent with ball in hand and under the high ball, held his nerve to nail the penalty.
There was more drama in the offing, with England winning a scrum penalty deep in Bok territory. This time Farrell bisected the uprights, and with less than eight minutes remaining, the onus was on the Boks to do something special.
The Bok scrum had its revenge, marching the England eight back across the halfway line and earning a penalty. Up stepped Pollard, with the stadium clock confirming that there were only four minutes left in the match.
Pollard hit the ball well, but only succeeded in shaving the upright. The Boks enjoyed one final opportunity to cross the line, and took the ball through 20 phases. The movement ended a knock-on, and England cleared their lines.
Esterhuizen collected a loose ball and attempted to breach the gainline in injury time. Farrell flew into the centre with what appeared to be his shoulder.
Gardner and company felt otherwise, though and the game ended in disappointing fashion for the Boks.
England – Penalties: Owen Farrell (3), Elliot Daly.
Springboks – Try: S’bu Nkosi. Penalty: Handré Pollard. Penalty: Pollard.
England – 15 Elliot Daly, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Ben Te’o, 11 Jonny May, 10 Owen Farrell (co-c), 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Mark Wilson, 7 Tom Curry, 6 Brad Shields, 5 George Kruis, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Dylan Hartley (co-c), 1 Alec Hepburn.
Subs: 16 Jamie George, 17 Ben Moon, 18 Harry Williams, 19 Charlie Ewels, 20 Zach Mercer, 21 Danny Care, 22 George Ford, 23 Chris Ashton.
Springboks – 15 Damian Willemse, 14 S’bu Nkosi, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Ivan van Zyl, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Duane Vermeulen, 6 Siya Kolisi (c), 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Subs: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Thomas du Toit, 18 Wilco Louw, 19 RG Snyman, 20 Lood de Jager, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 André Esterhuizen.
Photo: Henry Browne/Getty Images