I suggested on Saturday that Marcus Smith would win it for England by one point with an extra-time drop goal but I will settle for a last-minute penalty from the young Harlequins fly-half!
Like the rest of the England team, Smith was on the back foot for most of the second half and we have yet to see the best of him in attack for England but my God, he has a great temperament. And he’s a natural born winner.
He kept kicking his goals all day in a tumultuous contest that really got the pulse going. And when the moment came, when his team needed him, he delivered.
Marcus Smith was the hero for England as his kick sealed a famous win over South Africa
The rising star fly-half from Harlequins showed no nerves and his winning kick was not in doubt
As he approached that kick I had not the slightest doubt he would nail it. I can guarantee you no Quins will have doubted him either. Smith is born for such a moment.
And then, to complete a lesson learning afternoon for the young brigade, Freddie Steward – with the brilliant lion-hearted Eben Etzebeth charging and jumping one final time – soared again to win the final challenge of a nail-biting game.
England did it the hard way, mind, and when the excitement and celebrations die down, I trust Eddie Jones will go through the match in some detail and point out how victory could have been more easily achieved and the areas England must improve en route to Rugby World Cup 2023.
With the Boks, as they always do, cranking it up in the second half with the arrival of the Bomb Squad, life suddenly became very difficult and tense after the break.
England knew it was coming and it was difficult to counter. The Boks power came on, the discipline slipped with 10 straight penalties and it all seemed to be going wrong, but England’s heart never faltered.
England needed to be 15 points ahead at the break in my estimation to disrupt the South Africa game plan, which invariably relies on them taking a massive grip on the game in the second half. Any less than that and you run the risk of getting involved in a dog-fight of a second half, which is what happened.
Smith is a natural born winner and the future looks bright for England at the No 10 position
The two tries were excellent, there was lots to enjoy. The remorseless build-up to Manu Tuilagi’s try reminded me of that crescendo of play that brought England their early try against New Zealand in the World Cup semi-final when it was Tuilagi again who got over the line.
It was superb and augured well but your spirits dipped when Tuilagi came up from scoring clutching his ribs or side. He had dived, not extravagantly or showboating, but to render any last-ditch tackle impossible, and indeed the Boks scarcely laid a hand on him, but he knew immediately he had done some damage on impact. Hopefully, it’s not too serious.
Steward, so impressive in defence, also showed up well in attack for the second try, making the initial bust and then popping up on the blindside when the ball was recycled to blast through a couple of defenders.
All this was hugely encouraging but England needed 40 minutes of excellence and more scores to put the Boks under pressure. Strike while the iron is hot.
They didn’t do that and there were two incidents in the last few minutes that summed it up. An attacking lineout 10 yards out, but they took an age to gather. And then Kyle Sinckler wandered over for a chat to Jamie Blamire, who had a fine game generally. It took all momentum out, allowed the Boks to settle and a poorish lineout drill followed, which ended up with England on the back foot and the Boks earning a penalty. You just can’t get away with such sloppy play.
Then, with the clock ticking over to 40 minutes, England snaffled possession from a Boks 22 drop-out. They needed to be on red alert but instead, Youngs hooked the ball over his shoulder into the corner, which the grateful Boks dealt with comfortably. Very frustrating.
The second half was entirely different, a backs-to-the-wall effort that at times England looked like losing. They stuck in, though, and I applaud Eddie for his trust in Raffi Quirke, who he brought on with half an hour to go. His clinical try, beautifully fashioned by Joe Marchant, was key and breathed life back into England.
It was still a nervous but compelling finale but England got there. They will play better than this in future but this is surely the massive scalp that will convince them of that.