Five things we learnt at Twickenham
1 Discipline still an issue for hosts
On a day of lion-hearted bravery from England, their first-half disciplinary problems seemed a distant memory at the final whistle and Owen Farrell was cleared of a potential high tackle that could have cost them the game at the death. Yet England will know that the concession of such a high penalty count, 11 to South Africa’s five, will be punished much more heavily by the All Blacks. The tone was set at the first line-out, when Maro Itoje was penalised for interfering with Eben Etzebeth in the air, and moments later Kyle Sinckler was penalised for entering a maul at an offside position, allowing Handre Pollard to land his first penalty. Itoje would go on to become England’s worst offender, conceding two more penalties in the first half, the second of which may have prevented a try when he lay over the ball after a tackle on S’bu Nkosi, earning himself a yellow card. It took heroic England defending, and Springbok profligacy, to ensure that they did not make the numerical advantage count.
2 Springbok struggle at set-piece
On three occasions, the Springboks looked certain to use their formidable driving maul to score and yet squandered each opportunity. Malcolm Marx was twice guilty of overthrowing his jumper. When the Springboks at last did manage to set their maul, the ball was knocked on as they marched towards the line. While the introduction of Ben Moon brought more solidity to the English scrum, South Africa’s line-out woes continued. England’s resistance was captured when the Springboks collapsed to concede the winning penalty.
3 Mitchell’s defence holds up well
England are installing a new defensive system under John Mitchell, which Eddie Jones described as requiring more “energy and a connection” from the players. It will never have a more testing workout, particularly in the first half. In the face of some ferocious carrying, England’s defensive line stood up well, with Mark Wilson and Itoje each making 13 tackles. That South Africa enjoyed 64 per cent territory and 59 per cent possession but could not transform those stats into a victory says much about England’s defensive energy.
4 England developing depth of character
Given their poor run and the lack of experience up front, England proved this is not a squad that is in danger of unravelling. They took the game by the scruff of the neck despite being outplayed in the first half. They found a way to win, instilling fresh hope. Farrell punched the air at the end and Jones jumped in elation in what is one of the most significant results of his tenure. South Africa could not match England’s grit and the visitors’ error count increased during the second half. The final analysis showed a green England pack refusing to be intimidated.
5 Visitors lack ambition in attack
England had little chance to run through their attacking playbook in the first half, but South Africa’s lack of ambition cost them. It seemed as if the Springboks felt a contained performance would ease them to victory given their dominance up front. When England gained parity after the break, they looked sharper in possession, with Jonny May excelling. Elliot Daly was twice guilty of stepping inside when an overlap was on, but England carved out space in the wide channels to give them enough frontfoot ball to snatch victory.
High stakes: England kicker Owen Farrell was not penalised for a contentious tackle
Man of the match: Mark Wilson was tenacious in the tackle