By Katie Field, Rugby World writer
In a nutshell
ENGLAND HAD a strong first half, featuring outstanding defence, some good attacks and great security under the high ball, but South Africa took a grip on the game in the third quarter and England were never quite good enough to get back into it. The scrum did not prove to be a decisive weapon for South Africa until the last ten minutes, but England’s poor kicking game helped hand the hosts the initiative.
England debutants Joe Marler and Tom Johnson had terrific games, Mike Brown was rock solid under the high ball and Jonathan Joseph could have done with more time, coming off the bench in the dying minutes. Chris Robshaw led his team well and while Owen Farrell was out of sorts, Ben Foden did well on the wing. For South Africa Willem Alberts was outstanding and Bryan Habana, Morne Steyn and Frans Steyn all posed questions in attack. New coach Heyneke Meyer clearly said the right things at half-time, as South Africa took the initiative straight after the break.
Jean de Villiers’ try, his team’s second of the second half, put South Africa 16-6 up and gave England a mountain to climb. The tourists’ defence had held up so well in the first half, but two breaches after the break – Morne Steyn crossed before de Villiers – gave South Africa a clear lead.
Willem Alberts was in storming form in the Springbok back row, using all his power to knock England back. He was deservedly named the official Man of the Match. For England, Tom Johnson was the stand-out performer on debut and made very few errors.
Room for improvement
England’s kicking out of hand was poor, and the chase even poorer. After holding South Africa in the first half, they needed to take the initiative with some incisive attacking rugby, but were unable to cut through until the final play of the match.
For South Africa, Morne Steyn had an off-day with the boot and their pack lost a couple of lineouts on their own throw, but with only five days of preparation time they will be delighted to be 1-0 up in the three-Test series.
In quotes – winners
South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer: “At some stages I really thought we played great rugby, we moved the ball around and I was happy with the result, but we butchered one or two tries and you need to finish those in Test match rugby. I think that this team has been so great from the start, they have got very high standards, so although there were some hard words (at half-time) they knew that they had to step up in the second half.”
In quotes – losers
England coach Stuart Lancaster: “The first half was very positive but in that third quarter the Boks got on top of us a bit. Joe Marler was outstanding and Tom Johnson had a fantastic game. We were a little bit short today, but not much.”
England won all ten of their own lineouts and stole three from the Springboks. England forced 17 turnovers from South Africa and conceded 13, but the hosts beat 19 defenders to England’s 12.
SOUTH AFRICA: Zane Kirchner (Pat Lambie 40); JP Pietersen, Frans Steyn, Jean de Villiers (capt), Bryan Habana (Wynard Olivier 31-40); Morne Steyn, Francois Hougaard (Ruan Pienaar 56); Tendai Mtawarira, Bismarck du Plessis (Adriaan Strauss 66), Jannie du Plessis (Coenraad Oostuizen 48-58), Eben Etzebeth (Flip van der Merwe 58), Juandre Kruger, Willam Alberts, Marcell Coetzee (Keegan Daniel 72), Pierre Spies.
Tries: M Steyn, de Villiers. Pens M Steyn 4
ENGLAND: Mike Brown (Jonathan Joseph 78); Chris Ashton, Manu Tuilagi, Brad Barritt (Toby Flood 53), Ben Foden; Owen Farrell, Ben Youngs (Lee Dickson 72); Joe Marler (Paul Doran-Jones 72), Dylan Hartley (Lee Mears 75), Dan Cole, Mouritz Botha (Tom Palmer 58), Geoff Parling, Tom Johnson, Chris Robshaw (capt), Ben Morgan (Phil Dowson 61).
Try: Foden. Pens: Farrell 4