Lead changes hand four times before England claim 27-26 victory

England edge Springboks in instant classic

It was a Test match that had all the nature of a boa constrictor – the longer it stayed so tight, the more perilous it felt. England and South Africa exchanged the lead four times in the last 20 minutes, but in the end, England edged it to win 27-26, in a fixture Twickenham was glad to have witnessed.

On the 63rd minute, the Springboks took the lead for the first time, making it 18-17 through an Elton Jantjies. The Bomb Squad were on and the Boks were racking up the penalties. Even with Handre Pollard missing two penalty kicks, they were growing through the game. But England bounced back with an exceptional try for Raffi Quirke.

Them Makazole Mapimpi scored.

And Frans Steyn got a penalty.

And then, in a crescendo to the match, as Marcus Smith tried to step his way out of traffic and went down, that same Boks hero went over the top of the ruck and fell on the wrong side. From the tee Smith made it 27-26. And that was that.

England began at a lick, scoring the first try with a flying Manu Tuilagi. Only for the centre to take his leave immediately after with a leg complaint.

Pollard got the first kick of his own, but England were at it again, this time with Freddie Steward powering over the top of Cobus Reinach to score.

The full-back looked assured for most of the afternoon, only blotting his copy book with a few knock-ons near the death, having been safe under the high ball all afternoon. But he was running hard, offering support and willing to exit. Inside him, Henry Slade looked to be enjoying the role of secondary playmaker. But more on that later.

Because as adventurous as they felt, England just couldn’t shake South Africa. They were tightening it up…

After the first half ended at 17-12, the Boks rung the changes. Scrum penalties came. Breakdowns were battered. Points were on offer.

But after finally wresting the lead, they saw the best of Slade. Getting clean lineout ball at first receiver, and with Smith sliding in behind looking for all the world like a pull-back pass was coming, the centre instead gave the short pop to Joe Marchant. On the break he had a two-on-one with Jesse Kriel. He fed Quirke who went over for his first England score.

Roaring back, the Boks found their way to the English line with a surging maul, that created the platform for Jantjies to play. Spreading it to Lukhanyo Am, he threw a wide pass to Mapimpi and he did what comes naturally, racing in for another Test try. Which took it to just a point, with the missed conversion. England led 24-23.

Steyn had the length of kick to take the lead back, 26-24, but their luck turned. Captain Siya Kolisi saw yellow for haring after a high ball and colliding with Marchant in the air. The officials decided he was never going to win the ball. England had seen yellow themselves, with Charlie Ewells sent to the bin for persistent fouls from England – the hosts gave away 18 penalties throughout this Test.

Then Steyn fell foul of those officials as he dropped right off his feet on the wrong side of the ruck. Smith took the lead back.

The ball was hoisted high right at the death, but again the Boks clattered a man in the air, this time Eben Etzebeth being penalised. England booted it into a noisy stand, as the home crowd sounded their appreciation for a famous win.

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