The Harlequins’ opening half – free to start England’s attack with captain Owen Farrell sidelined with injury – was given a last-breath penalty to seal a spectacular victory for 27-26 after an absorbing finish that saw the momentum swing back and forth thrillingly in front of a large crowd in South West London.
Saturday’s result means England – who open the 2022 Six Nations against Scotland on February 5 – end this year’s Fall Nations Series with a 100% record after victories over Tonga and the Australia, while South Africa’s impressive No.1 streak is over after beating the All Blacks, Wales and Scotland in recent weeks.
England dominated early on, passing a few initial aerial tests and forcing Willie Le Roux to land behind his own line before their inexperienced first line with Bevan Rodd and Jamie Blamire – who only have seven caps between them but started due for the absence of Ellis Genge and Jamie George – won the first scrum.
They kept the pressure on as Smith kicked a penalty for touchdown and England cleverly maintained possession of the line before opening the game.
Smith was orchestrating deep within Springbok 22, with Henry Slade throwing a super pass to Manu Tuilagi, who dove into the corner but was injured in the process – having already been heavily tied down before kickoff – as Max Malins was called early.
Handre Pollard – back in South Africa’s starting lineup with partner half-back Cobus Reinach and Sale Lood lock from Jager – marked the start after Jonny May was left isolated inside England 22, but the hosts quickly scored again.
Freddie Steward was sent into space by another Slade star pass. While Leicester full-back and Jonny May were initially kept at bay, Steward wouldn’t be denied as he ultimately crashed with green and gold shirted defenders draped over him.
Pollard and Smith traded new penalties, with England coming in after a great job from No.8 Tom Curry who forced imposing lock Eben Etzebeth to crash.
South Africa was comfortably second best, but Pollard’s boot – including a booming long-distance effort from 55 yards – kept them in touch and only led them by five points to the interval, Smith failing badly with a late drop goal attempt. .
The Springboks showcased their ‘Bomb Squad’ early in the second half as the momentum started to turn, though the previously reliable Pollard was off target with back-to-back penalties as the South African scrum increased dramatically. the heat.
Pollard’s next effort came after Sam Underhill got his hands in the ruck, making it a two-point game with 25 minutes left.
England started to really lose discipline as the penalty roll continued to grow and only a remarkable defense from Malins kept Kwagga Smith from scoring.
Frans Steyn missed his own drop goal attempt before South Africa took the lead for the first time thanks to Elton Jantjies kick off the tee after England were called offside.
But their one-point advantage didn’t last long as Sale’s young scrum-half Raffi Quirke – who replaced Ben Youngs with half an hour left in a big show of faith from Jones – sprinted to touch the ground after a nice break by Joe Marchant, created by Slade.
It was a first English try for 20-year-old Quirke in his second appearance only.
Substitute mainstay Will Stuart was later punished for England’s persistent infractions as he was sent to the Bin of Sins and South Africa quickly got down to making their power play count, their attackers hitting and slashing England’s defense before the prolific wing Makazole Mapimpi passed through the opposite corner.
The extras were missed by Jantjies, although more indiscipline from England was punished by Steyn, whose penalty brought the score to 26-24 against South Africa with just over five minutes to go .
Eben Etzebeth broke through for the Springboks, but a dishonest pass to Malcolm Marx stopped the attack in its tracks, with captain Siya Kolisi then a yellow card for knocking out Marchant in the air.