England 12-11 South Africa: Talking points from Twickenham

We look at the major talking points from the game as England ground out a narrow 12-11 victory over South Africa at a jubilant Twickenham on Saturday.

Eddie Jones’ charges had to rely on the boots of Owen Farrell and Elliot Daly to overcome a physical Springbok side, who scored the game’s only try through wing S’bu Nkosi.

Here’s what stood out after England opened their November Quilter series with victory in front of over 80,000 spectators…

Angus Gardner’s big, big call

Only one place to start. When a Test match finishes with a single point differential, and the final whistle is delayed by a television match official’s (TMO) “check, check” call ringing out over the ref mic three minutes into dead time, it’s going to prove unequivocally significant.

When taking into consideration that the alleged offence was in an eminently kickable position, it is all the more worthy of discussion.

England co-captain Farrell – by that stage the on-field skipper – thundered into Bok replacement centre Andre Esterhuizen with shuddering force. It wasn’t high, but was it legal?

On first view it looked a clear no-arms tackle. Stiff arm, with a shoulder driven into the on-rushing Bok’s chest.

In truth, it looked a fairly straightforward decision for Australian referee Angus Gardner, particularly given the intervention of TMO Olly Hodges – an act which almost always suggests the TMO has noticed something untoward.

Yet, having reviewed the decision on the big screen at Twickenham amid a baying crowd, we heard no more from the TMO as Gardner proclaimed: “I have a decision: there’s enough of a wrap on the far side” – referring to Farrell’s right arm, which, on replays appeared to show a distinct lack of a wrap.

A puzzling call and one that went England’s way big time. Would Pollard have slotted the kick to win it? It would have been tough, but he probably should have been given the chance by the referee.

Perhaps significantly – and rather tellingly – it was a sheepish-looking Farrell who then celebrated the hardest in the aftermath of the decision.

On a slightly separate note, referee Gardner also appeared to have missed the memo surrounding the game’s new intention regarding high tackles.

Siya Kolisi (on Farrell), Thomas Du Toit (on George Kruis) and Maro Itoje (on Ivan van Zyl) each appeared to put in tackles which made connection with either head or neck, but on each instance not even a penalty was awarded. Bewildering.

Bok profligacy; England ill-discipline

While compelling all the same, this was a Test match which was exceedingly peculiar.

Indeed, both teams appeared virtually allergic to extended pieces of play within dangerous positions. Positions where they could hurt the opposition. Where they could wrestle control of the Test and put points on the board.

The first half was the epitome of this malfunctioning contest. It was 40 minutes utterly dominated by the Springboks, but one in which they, somehow, went in with just a two-point advantage at 8-6.

The stats illustrating their dominance were near ridiculous: 76 per cent territory, 62 per cent possession, 33 gain-line successes to England’s nine.

The home side made one visit to the 22 throughout the entirety of the opening period. It resulted in one lineout, which ultimately was lost.

Jones’ players missed nine tackles, made less than half the carries of their Bok counterparts and made less than half the metres.

It was extraordinary they found themselves still in the game having conceded just the one try. As Sir Clive Woodward remarked to Sky Sports during the half-time break: “That is the best 8-6 down ever.”

How did the game pan out as such? How did England remain in contention when under the pump for such long spells?

The overarching conclusion comes down to Springbok profligacy.

On at least 10 occasions during the 80 minutes, South Africa knocked the ball on or lost a lineout in or around the England 22.

Malcolm Marx was the big sinner in this regard, knocking on under a big tackle from Tom Curry early on, losing four lineouts and knocking on outside the 22 early in the second half too.

Damian de Allende, Kolisi, Eben Etzebeth and Lood de Jager all also lost the ball within the final third of the pitch.

For England, what little possession they did have near the South Africa 22 was invariably quashed due to their own ill-discipline – this was the main reason they rarely looked like scoring a try and had to rely on penalties.

Itoje, regrettably, began in familiar vain, giving away needless penalties which quelled any momentum.

By his 16th minute sin-binning for cynically killing the ball on top of his own tryline, the lock had already given away four penalties – the other three coming at the maul. It’s a trait the supremely talented second row must attempt to wipe from his game as it is costing his team.

Kyle Sinckler, Ben Te’o and Kruis (twice) were all also guilty of giving away cheap and costly penalties.

England will know they were fortunate to still be within the game after the first half. The Boks could, and probably should have been out of sight.

They will also be aware that having so little of the play against Tier 1 nations going forward, will likely see them punished.

But there will be satisfaction within the squad too. To have stuck in there, remained in touch, kept working hard and ultimately pulled off an unlikely win will please the players.

Not so much room for improvement, as an urgent requirement to get better ahead of hosting the All Blacks. But victory is never to be sniffed at.

Marx’s lineout struggles

We’ve mentioned him already, but one of the key talking points to come out of Saturday’s Test was the lineout throwing of Malcolm Marx – and it’s an area that has raised concerns before.

Losing four lineouts is difficult for any hooker in world rugby to excuse, let alone one who is coming off the back of a nomination during the week for World Player of the Year.

And they were lost in areas of vital significance, at crucial times.

His overthrow five metres from the England line in the 17th minute was – in a way – a game changer. The Boks at 3-0 in front had battered and bruised their way up to the red zone, got within inches of touching down for a try, forced an Itoje sin-binning and kicked to the corner again.

Then Marx wildly overthrew, relieving huge pressure off England. At the end of Itoje’s sin-bin period, the score read 3-3. No advantage had been taken.

From there, the 24-year-old had the set-piece wobbles. He overthrew in the 28th and 44th minutes too, while a 55th-minute lineout went astray also.

Marx is indisputably one of the best rugby players in the world – particularly at the breakdown and in the loose. But can he be called the best hooker in the world after a throwing display such as this? Doubtful.

He may be the best rugby player wearing two in the world, but at present is not the best hooker. Throwing is, and always will be, the bread-and-butter of the position.

Drop goal quivers?

Back in September, South Africa were the benefactors as Beauden Barrett, Damian McKenzie and the All Blacks refused to execute a drop goal to win a Rugby Championship Test in Wellington.

At Twickenham, the Springboks were as guilty of avoiding an attempt at a game-winning shot.

One point down, and with Pollard having kissed the post with a 76th-minute penalty from near halfway, the Boks built through phases and between 77 and 79 minutes spent a prolonged period deep in the England 22.

The position made a drop goal attempt for any top-level out-half a virtual formality. Yet with Pollard and Elton Jantjies both on the pitch, neither even entertained the option.

Not at any point did either man drop into the pocket or look to be steering things towards a potential drop. And in the end, they didn’t get a chance to as the ball was lost on the 20th phase of South African attack.

It was a monumental opportunity lost and a moment which should not be forgotten in the mire of the final Farrell tackle non-decision.

Winners and Losers

Much of the talk leading into this one surrounded the absence of terrific South Africa scrum-half Faf de Klerk.

The Sale Shark – who was in the stands today at Twickenham – was excellent against England during the summer as part of the Boks’ 2-1 series success, but owing to the fact he is contracted to a Premiership club and Saturday’s fixture fell outside of the official Test window, he was ineligible.

His replacement was Ivan van Zyl, and the Blue Bulls man proved one of the best players on the park.

His wonderful pass – full of zip and fizz – allowed the Bok attack to flow. Ahead of Nkosi’s try, two gorgeously flat Van Zyl passes – first to Jesse Kriel, then to Damian Willemse – allowed gainline success centrally and paved the way for space out wide. It was an eye-opening performance.

Elsewhere, Bok inside-centre De Allende proved near impossible to put down. In the first half, 11 of his 13 carries yielded gainline success. Underrated in South Africa, the 26-year-old shone at Twickenham.

Lock Pieter Steph Du-Toit marvelled with his work ethic, as did man of the match Mark Wilson at No 8 for England.

And Farrell – his final tackle aside – kicked magnificently to ensure victory.

Nkosi was a livewire on the wing for South Africa, brilliantly notched the game’s only try and displayed immense athletic ability in the air. On 16 minutes, he caught a cross-kick above his head with a fabulous piece of skill. His vertical leap is outstanding.

The losers to come out of this one: Marx and Itoje for reasons already discussed. Alec Hepburn who, after winning the loosehead selection call over club team-mate Ben Moon, was subbed off at half-time.

Te’o struggled to impact the fixture, while Jonny May had one of his poorer outings, making a number of uncharacteristic errors.

#Followtherose this autumn with all of England’s Tests live on Sky Sports throughout November. Watch clashes against South Africa, New Zealand, Japan and Australia.

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