England confidently bagged their 10th Test win out of 10 in the calendar year, with returning wing Jonny May leading the way to a four-try win over a disappointingly disjointed South Africa.
The strong suspicion beforehand that England were well set to end their 10-year wait for a win over the Springboks was borne out with a mixture of textbook tries and intelligent picking-off of the South Africans’ heavy forwards around the breakdowns.
Ben Youngs will not enjoy many more comfortable afternoons of galloping away from inattentive guards at rucks, with Piet-Steph du Toit a regular victim of seeing the Leicester scrum-half snipe past him.
Much of the pre-match chatter had surrounded England being forced into changes since their spring Grand Slam and summer series win in Australia. But the spate of injuries also allowed the recalled Wasps lock Joe Launchbury to be a star performer, not just for his incessant carries but also his superb linking play and reading of space.
An initial flurry of penalties earned England’s captain Dylan Hartley a ticking-off from referee Jerome Garces. And with Pat Lambie also picking off a scuffed dropped goal, South Africa led 9-7 at the end of the opening quarter.
However, the England score in that period showed the attacking threat they possessed, and there was a warm, contented buzz from an appreciative home crowd in its aftermath.
It was a try made on the fields of Teddington, Brighton, the Algarve and Bagshot – England’s various training bases this season – with a liberal touch of head coach Eddie Jones’s Australian background about it.
Courtney Lawes tapped a line-out off the top and Billy Vunipola rumbled the ball into midfield where Owen Farrell and Elliot Daly acted as decoys, and Marland Yarde came from the right wing to make an extra man alongside full-back Mike Brown whose final pass sent May sprinting over at the left corner.
It was May’s seventh try for England – all of them at Twickenham – in the Gloucester flyer’s first Test of the year after a serious knee injury and Farrell made an excellent conversion.
South Africa suffered a big blow when they lost their experienced second row Eben Etzebeth to concussion, and Farrell’s easy penalty for a scrum collapse nudged England ahead in the 33rd minute.
Lawes might not have started for England if George Kruis and Maro Itoje had been fit, but the Northampton lock led the team out to mark his 50th cap, and he had a try to go with it shortly before half-time, although it needed some sharp-eyed perusal of replays by the officials.
Daly turned the South Africans with a hoisted kick on the run, and May harried Ruan Combrinck into a fumble in retreat. Daly’s harrying helped too, as Brown arrived to hack on, and replays showed Lambie’s hand preventing the Harlequin’s attempted gather. Lawes pounced on the loose ball and Farrell’s conversion had England 17-9 up.
And England led 20-9 at half-time after a 51-metre penalty goal from debutant Daly – a potentially nervy moment for the 24-year-old Wasp making his first Test start but he is renowned for his long-range kicking and, with a sweet swipe of the left boot, the ball sailed over with metres to spare.
Three minutes into the second half, England had this first match of their four this autumn, with Fiji, Argentina and Australia to come on the next three Saturdays, wrapped up as Youngs sashayed into a yawning gap, and chose Ford on his inside to enjoy the finish, when Brown was equally well placed outside.
Farrell converted and added a penalty for 30-9 but if the simplicity of the Ford try hinted at South Africa fading, they regrouped for a thrilling try (and forget the home supporters’ moans at a forward pass from Francois Venter) as replacement fly-half Johan Goosen rounded off a raid from the Boks’ half begun by a goose-stepping Damian de Allende.
Another Youngs snipe made a try scored and converted by Farrell, and if South Africa’s last-ditch second try-scorer Willie le Roux had given Wasps fans a hint of the class he will bring when he joins the Coventry club next February, the great bulk of buoyant feelings were with England.
England: M Brown; M Yarde, E Daly, O Farrell, J May (J Joseph 63); G Ford (B Te’o 71), B Youngs (D Care 68); M Vunipola (J Marler 63), D Hartley (capt; J George 56), D Cole (K Sinckler 72), J Launchbury, C Lawes, C Robshaw, T Wood (N Hughes 54), B Vunipola (D Attwood 71).
Tries: May, Lawes, Ford, Farrell; Conversions: Farrell 4; Penalties: Farrell 2, Daly.
South Africa: W le Roux; R Combrinck, F Venter, D de Allende, JP Pietersen (L Mapoe 77); P Lambie (J Goosen 54), R Paige (F de Klerk 63); T Mtawarira (S Kitshoff 56), A Strauss (capt; B Mbonambi 71), V Koch (L Adriaanse 56), E Etzebeth (F Mostert 31), L de Jager (N Carr 68), P-S du Toit, W Alberts, W Whiteley.
Tries: Goosen, Le Roux; Conversion: Combrinck; Penalties: Lambie 2; Drop goal: Lambie.
Referee: J Garces (France)
Attendance: 81,221Reuse content