Marcus Smith kicks late penalty as England beat South Africa in enthralling Test at Twickenham
As Marcus Smith’s penalty floated between the posts in the 80th minute, the Twickenham night sky filled with plastic pint glasses.
They were tossed up in the air to celebrate the new kids on the block — a baptism by beer — as England’s defining victory marked the start of a new era.
It felt like a major moment in the evolution of Eddie Jones’s team. With their backs against the ropes, Jones’s rookies swung back to beat the world champions. They succeeded where the British and Irish Lions failed this summer to end the autumn with a statement victory.
After the match, the youngsters took in every second. Freddie Steward sought out his grandad and shed a tear as they shared a warm embrace. Max Malins spent 20 minutes chatting to friends, while Raffi Quirke located his parents on the sidelines.
Marcus Smith kicked the crucial penalty as England defeat South Africa 27-26 on Saturday
For some of the older heads, this felt like revenge for the World Cup final. Maro Itoje, on the stroke of the final whistle, let out a guttural roar. He jumped up and down, clenched his arms and swung his ponytail.
Unlike 2019, England stepped into South African ‘Bomb Squad’ territory and managed to come out the other side in one piece. Nothing will make up for missing out on the Webb Ellis Cup but here, two years later, they can at least take some form of closure.
With England trailing 26-24 late in the second half, Smith held his nerve to win the game
The England fly-half slotted the crucial penalty right through the posts to secure a famous win
Manu Tuilagi opened the scoring for England early on as he touched down in the corner
England rode their luck. They conceded 18 penalties — 10 in a row in the second half — and somehow escaped with just one yellow card.
Watching a few miles away in his hotel room in Teddington, banned South African director of rugby Rassie Erasmus would have been seething. Here at Twickenham, however, it was impossible to wipe the smile off the cardboard cut-outs of his face.
The Springbok pack arrived with no lack of fanfare. In contrast, the names of Bevan Rodd and Jamie Blamire were barely known beyond the north of England before this November, but Jones’s tyros and Kyle Sinckler took it to them. In the first three scrums, England came away with two penalties and a free-kick.
And with seven minutes on the clock, England were ahead. Blamire threw a no-jump lineout throw to Maro Itoje. England worked through the phases, calling a ‘rhino’ ball to Manu Tuilagi, moving the ball from one wing to the other. Jesse Kriel shot out of the defensive line and Henry Slade shifted the ball to Tuilagi to score down the left wing.
The Sale centre, however, injured his hamstring in the process and left the field soon afterward
Freddie Steward scored his second try in as many Tests as he extended England’s lead to 14-3
Tuilagi subsequently left with a hamstring injury, but the makeshift midfield combination of Slade and Joe Marchant painted exquisite patterns. England won the aerial battles through Steward and found space out wide, unpicking the narrow nature of the Springboks blitz defence. With 18 minutes gone, Malins found space on the right, before Steward used his 6ft 5in frame to crash over for England’s second.
Not for the first time this campaign, England’s discipline was poor. They were penalised for sealing off at the breakdown, Jonny May was caught out and the pack made illegal attempts to stop the driving maul.
There were trademark crunching tackles from Ox Nche and Duane Vermeulen, all while Handre Pollard kicked his penalties to leave the half-time score at 17-12. Following the introduction of their ‘Bomb Squad’ front row in the 44th minute, South Africa began to squeeze their young prey.
The scrum penalties started going the visitors’ way. A few peeps of the whislte later, after two costly misses from Pollard, Elton Jantjies kicked South Africa ahead and Siya Kolisi protested with the officials for a yellow card.
Malins remarkably held up Kwagga Smith over the try line as England’s youngsters came of age.
‘You need to regenerate and have a little bit of a rebirth to go to the World Cup,’ said Jones. ‘There’s some good players coming through but we’ve got some pretty good experienced players too.’
Raffi Quirke scored his first England try to put the host ahead with 15 minutes left
England’s celebrations didn’t last long as the Springboks hit back almost immediately
Makazole Mapimpi responded to Quirke’s score to put South Africa ahead with a late try
Against the run of play, England launched a first-phase strike move from a lineout. Quirke threw a long pass to Slade, who ran a perfect combination with Marchant. Marchant split through the defence to send Quirke flying over for his first Test try.
Victory secure? Not quite. Will Stuart was sinbinned for another maul offence as South Africa powered upfield. With a one-man advantage, they threw the ball wide for Makazole Mapimpi to score his 18th try in 24 Tests.
‘Our young guys will learn so much in a Test like that where South Africa keep coming at you,’ said Jones.
South Africa captain Siya Kolisi was sent to the sin bin for the last five minutes
‘We had an advantage in the loose and they had an advantage in the set-piece. That’s why Test match rugby is loved because you don’t know where it’s going to go and what you need to win.’
In the end, it was won from the kicking tee. Frans Steyn booted his side back in front but tempers boiled over when Kolisi was shown a late yellow card for taking out Marchant in the air.
Nic Dolly’s first two lineouts went AWOL but there was one last chance when Steyn was penalised for flying into Smith with a cheap shot. Smith slotted the kick and England survived the restart, in what felt like a key step into the future.