Twickenham Stadium, London, Britain – November 26, 2022 England’s Jack Nowell in action with South Africa’s Canan Moodie
South Africa half-backs Damian Willemse and Faf de Klerk put England to the sword on Saturday with a relentless drum beat of drop goals, penalties and try assists in a 27-13 victory, that ended the hosts’ patchy autumn series on a decided downer.
Tries for Kurt-Lee Arendse and Eben Etzebeth helped the visitors repeat their 2019 World Cup final victory over England as the Springboks feasted on ill-discipline from the home side although it was the visitors who finished a man short.
South Africa’s Thomas du Toit was red-carded as the game entered the final quarter for shoulder-charging Luke Cowan-Dickie but despite Henry Slade’s try there was to be no miracle comeback like England managed last week against the All Blacks.
After the feel-good factor of that late draw, Saturday’s performance could have been designed to torment the Twickenham crowd with everything they have come to despise about latter-day Eddie Jones-era England.
There was a misfiring attack, a lack of set piece precision, penalties conceded every few minutes and the overall sense of a group of talented players trying to execute a gameplan they neither seem to understand or endorse.
South Africa meanwhile were excellent.
De Klerk was driven off the field on the motorised stretcher after sustaining a late knock, having tormented England all day with his usual relentless harrying as the visitors scored a hatful of penalties and conversions in a one-sided affair.
“It was a hard game but hats off to our forwards. We had some big conversations with each other this week and it paid off,” player of the match Franco Mostert said, referencing his team’s defeats this month to Ireland and France.
Willemse set up the pick of the tries, slicing back into space through England’s weak chase after Marcus Smith kicked too deep before setting Kurt-Lee Arendse free down the right.
The winger sidestepped round the hapless Smith to score in a passage of play England’s young stand off will want to forget in a hurry.
England conceded penalty after penalty, unable to slow South Africa’s bruising close-range phase play legally and receiving repeated warnings from referee Angus Gardner.
They were lucky to get in at the break without being shown a yellow card, having barely fired a shot in attack throughout a gritty first half.
England coach Jones responded by replacing his entire front row and young winger Tommy Freeman, who had been unable to get into the game.
But Willemse picked up where he had left off after the break, stroking over another long-range drop goal to put England well in the hole at 17-3 behind.
South Africa extended their lead through a close-range surge from the hulking Etzebeth after Tom Curry was sin-binned after repeated warnings for the constantly infringing England.
A pointless error from second row Jonny Hill summed up the discipline problems of the England side, getting a penalty for his team reversed after he pulled the prone De Klerk around after the whistle had gone.
After looking sharp when he came on in last week’s comeback against New Zealand, Slade furthered his case for a starting spot with a sharply taken try late in the game.
But there was to be no repeat of last week’s heroics, which now look more like a fortunate flurry than a glimpse of the team’s true qualities, and England will need some serious retooling ahead of next year’s Six Nations and World Cup.
South Africa are at present simply better than England, with more power, a more settled gameplan and sharper handling.
They can be happy with an autumn series in which they were missing some of their best players, despite narrow defeats by France and Ireland.
Conventional wisdom holds that this Springbok side can be beaten if their bruising pack are matched, but their opening try in particular showcased their squad depth and, increasingly, their back line play.
In Cheslin Kolbe, scourge of England in the 2019 World Cup final but unavailable on Saturday, they have one of the world’s best wingers. His similarly scrum-hatted deputy Kurt-Lee Arendse showed with his elusive score that he is almost as dangerous.