Springboks lose their heads as Marcus Smith clinches thriller for England
ENGLAND 27-26 SOUTH AFRICA
England gained a small but sweet measure of revenge for the 2019 World Cup Final with a nail-biting win over South Africa, at Twickenham. Marcus Smith held his nerve to clinch it.
England got off to a flyer when the aerial game gave them territory and possession, and they made it count. The Springboks were sucked in on their tryline before England waited until the right moment to spring wide and get Manu Tuilagi over in the corner.
Early joy for the home fans was tempered, though, as Tuilagi limped off and Handre Pollard reduced the arrears with a penalty.
The mood lifted after 17 minutes as Jonny May and Max Malins combined to go deep into the Springbok 22 and Freddie Steward did the rest with a great carry that saw him bash over from a few metres out. In return, Pollard was lapping over penalties as the visitor's rolling maul caused trouble.
South Africa trailed in their last seven Test matches, so were not put off by climbing another hill. They just put on their hiking boots and got climbing.
Penalty after penalty followed as the Boks had scrum and collision dominance. Pollard missed his first two pops at the sticks but landed his next and England's lead was down to two points. That lead was preserved when Malins made a try-saving tackle on Kwagga Smith.
Eddie Jones emptied his bench but the Springboks still took the lead when Elton Jantjies kicked a 64th minute penalty. Just when it was looking like the game was slipping away, Henry Slade and Joe Marchant combined to set up Raffi Quirke for a try that, when converted, made it 24-18 to the hosts.
As we headed into the final 10 minutes, England's high penalty count came back to bite them. Will Stuart was sent to the sin-bin and the Boks went wide with Makazole Mampimpi scoring in the corner. Jantjies missed with his touchline conversion, and England led by a slender point.
England infringed after the restart and Frans Steyn - into his 15th year of Test rugby - stepped up to kick his side 26-24 in front. There was even more drama to come as Springbok captain Siya Kolisi was sin-binned for tackling Marchant in the air.
In a game that saw England open the door to the Boks with poor discipline, a penalty call would settle it. South Africa were scrambling in defence but all over the place. They conceded two straight penalties and Marcus Smith opted to take the one right in front of the posts. Over it went and it was a hard-fought win for England.
Here are our full England player ratings after a pulsating match.
ENGLAND PLAYER RATINGS
Freddie Steward - 8
Dominated the skies, early on, and the trend continued all day. Superb leg drive to get England's second try. Mad a couple of line breaks. Missed his only tackle attempted.
Joe Marchant - 7
Took an early Smith cross-field kick on the charge. Penalised for being ahead of a kick to let the Boks off the hook. His line break and assist for Quirke's try was excellent.
Henry Slade - 6
Bold skip pass rewarded for Tuilagi try. Put Marchant through a gap for the Quirke try. Made only one carry, though.
Manu Tuilagi - 7
Stayed out well and moved the ball to outside arm for try in the corner. That was all she wrote, though, as he limped off injured.
Jonny May - 6
Spilled the ball forward after a Le Roux kick through. Featured positively in the build-up to England's first two tries. Barely seen in the second half as the England pack struggled.
Marcus Smith - 8
Put the ball to air plenty of times at the start, but it paid off. Showed bravery in defence to slide in and get to a grubber kick ahead of Jesse Kriel. Siya Kolisi ran through him like a turnstile as the tide started turning, in the second half. Brave chip won his side a penalty, near the end.
Ben Youngs - 6
Kicked out on the full, after 15 minutes, but that was the only blip in a bright start. Had
Bevan Rodd - 6
Acquitted himself well in the first half, but was replaced after England lost first scrum of the second half.
Jamie Blamire - 7
Like his fellow front row starters, did well in the early goings before the Boks muscled back. Threw well at the lineout and made a couple of decent carries.
Kyle Sinckler - 6
Juggled the ball, got slammed in a resulting tackle and then conceded a penalty in a few short seconds. Decent in the scrum in the first half, but struggled after the break.
Maro Itoje - 7
Strong carries and big tackles but had trouble solving the Bok rolling maul. Not the only forward driven back after the break, but on there fighting until the death.
Jonny Hill - 6
Didn't always go his own way, but stuck all his tackles and battled hard.
Courtney Lawes - 8
Did some smooth talking to get his team off the yellow card hook for so long. Didn't get much change on his carries, but tackled very well.
Sam Underhill - 6
Taking down men much bigger and burlier than him with perfect technique. Conceded a penalty in front of the posts.
Tom Curry - 7
Won his side a big penalty right on the Springbok 22. Ran into a couple of brick walls on carries. Missed a couple of tackles.
Max Malins (for Tuilagi '8) - 8
Came on for Tuilagi and stepped Jesse Kriel with ease before Steward got over for his try. Came close to getting one of his own, but was bundled out in sight of the tryline. Just shy of what would have been an incredible 50/22. Try-saving tackle on Smith.
Joe Marler (for Rodd '48) - 7
Raffi Quirke (for Youngs '50) - 7
Great support line for his try.
Will Stuart (for Sinckler '56) - 5
His yellow card was more of a team yellow than anything egregious.
Alex Dombrandt (for Underhill '56) - 6
Nic Dolley (for Blamire '60) - 7
Won his side a big penalty at the end.
Charlie Ewels (for Hill '60) - 6
Sam Simmonds (for Lawes '72) - 6