It was dramatic, brutal, visceral, error laden and in England’s case very fortunate, but they will take the victory (12-11 for the record) in what was a rip-roaring, if not necessarily of the highest technical quality, Autumn International at Twickenham last Saturday. It was clear both sides were rusty, as is always the case in a first match in a series of games but the South Africans will be wondering how they have left the home of English rugby without the win.
After surviving a first half battering, England somehow found themselves only 2 points behind. The Boks crossed over the line for a try once, but how they didn’t at least rack up a couple more was amazing. Poor handling at times mixed in with desperate defence from the home side contributed and even when Eddie Jones’ men were down to 14 they won the period 3-0. Also it doesn’t help when your World Player of the Year nominee hooker, Malcolm Marx, had what may well be one of his worse games ever for his country. His lineout throwing was amateurish, especially the continued tactic of throwing to the back and he was nowhere near the marauding danger in open play.
SMASH AND GRAB
During the second half England came back into the game and played much more on the front foot, stemming the tide and flow of South Africa’s attack, subduing them somewhat. They created opportunities and breaks without getting themselves over the whitewash and whilst they didn’t carve out as many opportunities as their opponents did in the first half, they should have scored at least one try. In the end the game became a penalty contest between Owen Farrell and Handre Pollard. 6-8 became, 9-8, then 9-11, then 12-11, what followed was two key moments. A missed penalty late on from the South African number 10, then the controversial moment of Farrell’s last play, possible illegal tackle which could have given the tourists a shot at goal and a likely victory. Referee Angus Gardner, from Australia had a look, everyone’s breath was held and eventually he ruled, no offence and the game was over. Phew, well if you support England that is, especially taking into account their torrid 2018, 9 tests, with 5 defeats (all in a row), but they have now won their last 2 matches, so there is some light at the end of the tunnel as we stand.
KEY GAMES AHEAD
So just the All Blacks up next, this coming weekend, though let’s be honest a victory is extremely unlikely against the number 1 ranked side in the world. However the win over South Africa has taken some of the pressure off especially when you consider that Eddie Jones’ side have a lengthy injury list and as previously mentioned 2018 has hasn’t been a stellar year on the pitch for the Red Rose side. The coach himself has come under increased scrutiny, especially as he has a very bullish and confrontational personality with plenty of his critics being out in force having their say, some quite gleefully. England can now have a right go against New Zealand, knowing that they don’t really have too much to lose, whatever the result. However the matches versus Japan and then Australia will be the true test of whether they are coming through their recent malaise and give a more accurate indication of where they stand in World Rugby as they head towards the Six Nations and a World Cup year.
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