England finished the Autumn internationals with a disappointing performance at Twickenham Stadium on Saturday. South Africa were the strongest team in the scrum and their kicker, Faf de Klerk, surpassed even Owen Farrell, who seems to still be recovering from an ankle injury.
For the final 20 minutes the Springboks played with a 14-man side. The replacement tighthead Thomas Du Toit was sent off with a rightful red card after he failed to wrap and made direct, forceful contact with Luke Cowan-Dickie’s head. Even with a man down, the Springboks kept the lead they had secured with drop kicks, tries and penalties.
The action-packed game was shadowed by the death of legendary Scottish player Doddie Weir after suffering with motor neurone disease. His death was announced minutes before kick-off and commentators paid their respects.
A first half of missed penalties and misconduct warnings
Both teams went into the first half with intentions to prove themselves. England had a shocking comeback against New Zealand last week but had not been on top form in their earlier games, especially against Argentina. Meanwhile South Africa had seven of their first-choice players out with injuries so had to quickly establish their skill.
England captain Farrell, kicked off a lively opening which saw an early turnover and uncertainty from Eddie Steward who gave South Africa the put in at the first scrum. South Africa got the advantage and earned a penalty, but points were not getting on the board that quickly.
It was De Klerk’s 4th kick in test rugby, and it showed when he missed a simple penalty. Uncharacteristically, Farrell did the same and lost an early opportunity for England to take the lead. He corrected his footing for the second penalty awarded after the second scrum failed to set properly and fractured.
England’s lead was short-lived when De Klerk found his feet and scored the next penalty at 20 metres. Although Farrell had a chance to retake the lead he missed again, this time from 40 metres.
South Africa took advantage of England’s disorder and started to play the game on their terms. They had played aimless phases outside England’s 22 so far but now the bomb squad showed what they were capable of. Damien Willemse sets the lead with a drop goal and Kurt-Lee Arendse scores a try soon after.
The Springboks were eight points up and England was left to play catch up for the next 60 minutes. Despite playing at Twickenham, it was South Africa proving they can play ball-in-hand that got the crowd on their feet.
From here the cracks started to show in Eddie Jones’ men, but the referee was having none of their frustration on the pitch. He issued warnings to England for lacking discipline, but it did not help control their frustration which meant they conceded more penalties. As the game neared half time De Klerk kicked another straight shot and secured an 11-point lead.
An action packed second half
South Africa picked up where they left off and scored a second drop goal. At this point, England reached breaking point and tempers flared on the pitch. A clash broke out with Eben Etzibeth and Ellis Genge in the middle. The referee had issued multiple warnings to England in the first half but confusion over which side was to blame meant no punishments were made other than stern warnings to both players.
Farrell eventually won another penalty, but his team was still wound tightly. Tom Curry became the latest man to give away a penalty and was sent to the bin for 10 minutes while the referee audibly reminded England that they were still on a warning.
The Springboks took advantage of the disorder in the English side. They secured an incredible second try of the game in the 57th minute. Maro Itoje had his hands on the ball ahead of De Klerk, but Etzebeth proved his worth to the bomb squad by bringing it back and over the line.
The lack of discipline during Saturday’s game also showed occasionally from the Springboks when Toit received a red card with 20 minutes of the game left to play. It was a nasty collision that seemed to be a blessing for England at first.
Henry Slade ran the ball over the line and secured England’s first try of the game. It was followed by Farrell kicking straight through the goal. The crowd erupted as memories of the turnaround England made against New Zealand last week came back but it was too late this time.
The Springboks still led by 14 points and as the clock went red England’s fate was sealed.
The only relief when the final whistle blew was that it was not to give another disciplinary warning. Jones’ men were rightly frustrated by their performance and left the pitch to boos from the crowd. Their lack of strength as a team was undeniable and Jones has been fielding questions about the team’s future and his own since the defeat.
What is next for England?
The match left the Springboks in a good place to defend their title at the 2023 World Cup next year, but England will need a crisis meeting to correct their mistakes if they hope to rebuild their reputation in the Six Nations.