Rugby Rugby

Three things learned from England v South Africa

England ground out a gritty 12-11 victory over South Africa largely thanks to the steady Owen Farrell and some stoic defence by an inexperienced back row © AFP / Adrian DENNIS

TWICKENHAM, United Kingdom, Nov 3 – England ground out a gritty 12-11 victory over South Africa in their one-off rugby union Test on Saturday at Twickenham.

AFP Sport picks out three things learned from the match:

Farrell’s steady hands integral to England victory

Owen Farrell’s value to England was encapsulated in the first-half not only landing two long range penalties to keep them in touch but also in making some important clearing kicks in what was only his third start under Eddie Jones at fly-half. The 27-year-old also was alert enough to gather a line out ball from Malcolm Marx’s loose throw in close to the England line. His calmness at fly-half steadied those less experienced heads around him and took the sting out of his opponents. His late block on Andre Esterhuizen could have been costly but his relief was evident as he pumped his fist on the referee declaring the tackle to be legal.

Boks miss Le Roux and de Klerk

The spotlight was on how Damian Willemse, making his full debut, at fullback, and Ivan van Zyl, at scrum-half, would fare instead of the dashing Willie Le Roux and world player of the year nominee Faf de Klerk, both the England-based players ruled out of this match as it falls outside the Test window. Van Zyl will not have given de Klerk much to worry about — he was watching from a hospitality suite — in terms of competition as he was solid without being spectacular linking well enough with fly-half Handre Pollard. Willemse, 20, showed up well in taking an early high ball well and produced some deft touches with the boot. He proved a livewire in attack too linking up nicely with wing Aphiwe Dyantyi early in the second-half. However, the Springboks badly lacked the experience and energy of the absent duo as the game wore on and Willemse especially started to allow errors creep into his game.

England’s green backrow stoic in defence

Much was made of the difference in caps between the South African back row and their English opponents — over 100 to around 10 — but it didn’t make a jot of difference to the latter who showed little respect for the opposing trio, with Tom Curry and Mark Wilson especially impressive in the first half. Their defensive work kept the Springboks at bay particularly when Maro Itoje was sin-binned in the 16th minute. Their stoic defence also induced several handling errors. It said it all about the lack of experience available to Jones in the back row that when Curry limped off early in the second-half he was replaced by debutant Zach Mercer. However, Mercer too impressed and a job well done was summed up when South Africa captain and flanker Siya Kolisi was removed from the fray with 15 minutes remaining.