Tuesday 21 November 2017

England exploit a gulf in class to outfox hapless Springboks

England 37 South Africa 21

England’s Owen Farrell dives to score his team’s fourth try against South Africa Picture: Getty
England’s Owen Farrell dives to score his team’s fourth try against South Africa Picture: Getty

Paul Rees

Eddie Jones had spoken in the build-up to this game about transferring the approach of Muhammad Ali from the boxing ring to the rugby field, pulling large and imposing forwards from one side to the other until they reached collapse.

There was more sliding than floating yesterday with the Twickenham surface affected by the rain, but the England head coach's strategy had already worked by the interval against opponents who were shockingly ordinary.

England's win ended a 10-year run without a victory against the Springboks who, World Cup winners nine years ago, are now in freefall and in danger of falling out of the top four of the world rankings. South Africa were a threat in the set-pieces and in defence around the fringe of rucks, but they rarely put England's defence in doubt.

England started too quickly and were three penalties and six points down in the opening six minutes.

Pat Lambie followed his 45-metre penalty with a drop goal from in front of the posts but the Springboks were unable to slow down the pace of the game. As it became looser and more open, so England flourished and exposed the ordinariness of their opponents.

As Jones grimaced in his seat in the stand after England's slow opening, they took the lead from a line-out which they had earned through their first penalty. Courtney Lawes caught the throw and South Africa were caught out by Billy Vunipola appearing at first receiver and even more so by Marland Yarde coming off his wing into midfield. Daly acted as a decoy, creating an overlap on the left which was exploited by Jonny May after Mike Brown's pass.

South Africa regained the lead through Lambie's second penalty, but they were slowly unravelling. Tom Wood, playing in the England back row for the first time in the Jones era, wasted no time in trying to show his coach he was mean rather than average, and at scrum-half Ben Youngs committed defenders by threatening to break and created space.

South Africa lost their second row Eben Etzebeth after 30 minutes when he clashed heads with Billy Vunipola and failed to make it back from the head injury assessment, and without him the Springboks' physical edge became blunt. Owen Farrell restored his side's lead after 33 minutes with a penalty after Mako Vunipola won a scrum penalty off his clubmate Vincent Koch and two minutes later the centre was lining up his second conversion of the match after a series of errors from South Africa, allowed Lawes to touch down.

A Daly penalty from just inside the South Africa half gave England a healthy 20-9 lead at the interval. A classy try from Ford suggested a tilt at beating his side's record victory over the Springboks of 50 points, with the tourists having a largely inexperienced bench, but after Farrell had kicked his second penalty, the traffic became two-way for a moment.

The replacement outside-half Johan Goosen, who had only been on the field for five minutes, scored in the right-hand corner after a swift counter-attack.

Youngs still had a trick in his hand. Every time he received the ball, he looked to see where the hapless Du Toit was, aware of the forward's large turning circle. The scrum-half spotted him neither guarding nor marking the first receiver and glided through a gap to set up Farrell, whose conversion gave the centre a match total of 20 points.

Le Roux finished the scoring with a try 80 seconds from time but England had eased up by then, emptying their bench and giving first caps to Kyle Sinckler, Nathan Hughes and Ben Te'o.

England: 37 (20(Farrell try, 2 pens, 4 cons, May, Lawes, Ford try each; Daly pen). South Africa: 21 (9)(Goosen, le Roux try each; Lambie 3 pens, Combrinck con)

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