Watch: England survive controversial finish to beat South Africa as referee doesn't penalise Owen Farrell for tackle in dying seconds
England made a winning start to the autumn internationals by defeating South Africa 12-11 with a hugely controversial finish, with a television match official review after the final play denying the Springboks what could have been a match-winning penalty.
Owen Farrell produced three penalties for the hosts that, added with Elliot Daly’s effort, proved enough to record back-to-back wins over South africa, but it was the fly-half’s last-gasp tackle on replacement Andre Esterhuizen that nearly cost England dearly.
But after reviewing the tackle, referee Angus Gardner and TMO Olly Hodges deemed the tackle fair, which sparked an emphatic celebration from the England co-captain.
Reckon the ref got that Farrell hit spot on! Not enough evidence that there was no attempt to wrap an arm. Collision was MASSIVE. https://t.co/CX6zSSEAD8— Brian O'Driscoll (@BrianODriscoll) November 3, 2018
Come off it Dric, just saw it-under new interpretation that is at a minimum a penalty, the very minimum. I’m a huge fan of Farrell, but that is shocking adjudicating— luke fitzgerald (@lukefitz11) November 3, 2018
Asked if his heart was beating faster after his tackle on Esterhuizen, Farrell said: "I'd imagine so, especially when they slow it down and look at it in slow motion on the big screen.
"It was just a big collision. I tried to wrap my arms but he was running pretty hard.
"Anything can happen (with the TMO referral) as everyone knows. Most importantly, I was proud of the fight out there that the boys showed and how mentally tough they were to stick in it, especially from that first half."
England captain Hartley felt there was nothing wrong with Farrell's challenge.
"Never in doubt, it wasn't. It was a good physical tackle," said Hartley.
South Africa coach Rassie Erasmus felt Farrell should have been penalised.
"We'll just have to adapt and start tackling like that. That's the only way you are going to stop people tackling that," he said.
The Springboks were comfortably the better side in the opening half, but their poor handling and execution meant that England went into the dressing rooms just two points adrift.
For England though, it was a familiar case of ill-discipline that dogged their efforts, and not for the first time Maro Itoje found himself at the forefront. Having conceded an early penalty for tackling in the air at the lineout, he conceded a swift second and by the time the third indiscretion came in the 16th minute, referee Angus Gardner had lost his patience. In killing the ball five metres out, Itoje was sent to the sin-bin, although South Africa failed to build on the three-point lead that Handre Pollard had given them as repeated kicks to the corner came to nothing when Malcolm Marx overthrew twice in the lineout.
In fact, England won the sin-bin period as Owen Farrell levelled the scores with a penalty of his own.
But the Springboks would not be denied, as a swift break down the left from Damian de Allende led to space on the right, and it was left to Aphiwe Dyantyi and Warren Whiteley to send Nkosi over in the corner.
Farrell added an immediate second penalty to cut the lead, but in the second half tide turned emphatically.
Suddenly the game was all England as Farrell and Ben Te’o grew into the game, which in turn brought Jonny May and Jack Nowell into play. Elliot Daly stepped up to kick a 49m penalty that Damian De Allende needlessly conceded by killing the ball, which somehow gave England the lead against the run of play.
But it only helped to see the hosts grow in confidence, and although Pollard added a second penalty when George Kruis held on to put South Africa back in front, there was only one side in the ascendency.
Daly twice wasted opportunities to release May when on the attack, but when the inexperienced pack emphatically won a penalty deep on South African territory, Farrell stepped up to kick what turned out to be the match-winning penalty.
Pollard had one late chance to snatch the win, but his penalty from 47m out shaved the outside of the right upright, and once the confusion over the final seconds was decided, England were left to celebrate what is a huge boost to their Rugby World Cup celebrations.