As it was they had to settle for four tries, all beautifully crafted and ruthlessly finished off, which means that in their last four tests the South Africans have scored 25 tries. They are a wondrous sight in full flight but, although they threatened at times in a relentlessly flowing second half to overwhelm England, they were held out by a combination of courageous defence and their own over-anxiety.
Despite the score, it was an enthralling contest, with England competing on level terms for an hour. In fact they led for all but three minutes of that period, Mike Catt, who played with far greater composure than he had done at Old Trafford, kicking two fine penalty goals, both from almost the same spot 45 yards out, and Nick Greenstock, in his first international, scoring a try following a dreadful mix-up in the Springboks' defence.
England's achievement in this spell was all the more remarkable because they were working on starvation rations. Of the nine line-outs in the first half, a remarkably low number for an international, England had won just three and although their scrummage held up well, especially as Andrew Garvey was persistently crowding in on Jason Leonard, they were coming under pressure.
Yet the sheer strength and accuracy of their tackling had forced the Springboks into an astonishingly high number of unforced errors in the ratio of 6-1, the most blindingly awful one being the confusion between Pieter Rossouw and Krynauw Otto which allowed Greenstock a free passage to the line from 30 yards out. In fact England's position might have been even stronger had Garath Archer not been spotted in an off-the-ball incident by the touch judge, forcing the referee, who had just awarded a kickable penalty to England, to reverse his decision.
There were, however, a number of massively encouraging English strikes from deep, the best being when Rossouw's loose kick across the face of the England line was picked up and run back by Catt and David Rees. It was an exhilarating response which lifted English hearts.
But even with an 11-point start, England were always at risk from the devastating attacks launched from all over the field by the Springboks, almost invariably involving Percy Montgomery - a majestic presence at full-back - and the two incisive centres Andre Snyman and Dick Muir. Their ability to play the game at the very mouth of the opposition defence began to prise open the smallest of gaps. Early in the match England's cover was good enough to seal those cracks, but the warning signs were undoubtedly there.
The Springboks began to alter their tactics, using their powerful and athletic back row to breach England's front line. With almost 40 minutes played, the Springboks were encamped on the English line - one sensed the importance of the moment. The psychological advantage to England of reaching half-time with an 11-point cushion was incalculable. For the Springboks it was vital that they got something for their efforts. And so they did when Garvey ploughed over from a full-frontal drive. Henry Honiball converted and the lead, crucially, was reduced to four points.
Even worse for England was the fact that in the build-up to the move Catt had been badly injured and he was stretchered from the ground with blood gushing from a head wound, clearly concussed, to be replaced by Paul Grayson. Without Catt's cutting edge, England's attacking options in the second half were reduced, but in truth they saw little of the ball during the next 40 minutes.
The tactical shift in the first half became the Springboks' game plan in the second. Their loose forwards raged all over the field and, with the tight five equally capable of operating at speed in tight corners, there was no hiding place for England.
Even so, there didn't seem any room for manoeuvre when Snyman, whose name in Afrikaans means cutting man, sliced through England's defence and with breathtaking acceleration scorched towards the line with Matt Perry and Will Greenwood hanging on to his shirt-tail. It was superb opportunism and ripped the heart out of England. They had done nothing wrong but had been brutally punished.
When three minutes later Mark Andrews was adjudged to have grounded the ball, close to the corner but over the England line, the game was up for England. Werner Swanepoel's try, after a delightful exchange of passes with the Western Province wing James Small, added the coup de grace and was a fairer reflection on the difference between the sides.
Unlike the French, however, England kept going. They tackled themselves to a standstill, their spirit embodied by Austin Healey who had come on as a replacement for John Bentley. His covering tackle on Andre Venter saved a certain try at a time when England were in grave danger of being overwhelmed.
There must come a time in England's development when they can no longer be given the benefit of the doubt and they must now appreciate that it is one thing to hold the opposition, it is another altogether to beat them. This remains the most striking difference between England and their opponents of the last two weeks.
England: M Perry (Bath); J Bentley (Newcastle), W Greenwood (Leicester), N Greenstock (Wasps), D Rees (Sale); M Catt (Bath), M Dawson (Northampton); J Leonard (Harlequins), R Cockerill (Leicester), D Garforth (Leicester), D Grewcock (Saracens), G Archer (Newcastle), L Dallaglio (Wasps; capt), N Back (Leicester), R Hill (Saracens).
Replacements: P Grayson (Northampton) for Catt 40; C Sheasby (Wasps) for Hill 55; A Healey (Leicester) for Bentley 64; S Shaw (Wasps) for Grewcock 67.
South Africa: P Montgomery (Western Province); J Small (Western Province), A Snyman (Northern Transvaal), D Muir (Western Province), P Rossouw (Western Province); H Honiball (Natal), W Swanepoel (Orange Free State); O Du Randt (Orange Free State), J Dalton (Gauteng), A Garvey (Natal), K Otto (Northern Transvaal), M Andrews (Natal), A Aitken (Western Province), A Venter (Orange Free State), G Teichmann (Natal; capt).
Replacements: B Skindstav (Western Province) for Venter 32-37;
Referee: C Hawke (New Zealand).Reuse content