Marcus Smith held his nerve with a 79th-minute penalty as England edged out world champions South Africa 27-26 in a thrilling clash at Twickenham on Saturday.
AS IT HAPPENED | SPRINGBOKS V ENGLAND: SCORES, COMMENTARY
England fashioned fine tries for Manu Tuilagi, Freddie Steward and Raffi Quirke to just one from South Africa’s Makazole Mapimpi.
But in what was the teams’ first meeting since South Africa beat England in the 2019 World Cup final in Japan, the hosts’ poor indiscipline allowed South Africa to score 21 points in penalties with just over a minute left the Springboks led 26-24.
But, with South Africa a man down following skipper Siya Kolisi’s 75th-minute yellow card, they conceded a kickable penalty from in front of the posts just 26 metres out.
The 22-year-old Smith, still a Test novice, made no mistake and England, who finished a lowly fifth in this year’s Six Nations, then saw out the game to complete an autumn series clean sweep following wins over Tonga and Australia.
An England side without several first-choice front rows – prop Bevan Rood was winning just his second cap – held their own up front with the cool Smith making light of not having captain Owen Farrell alongside him after the centre was ruled out with an ankle injury.
South Africa had been deprived of Rassie Erasmus after their inspirational director of rugby was given a two-month ban from all rugby activity following his criticism of match officials during the Springboks’ series win over the British & Irish Lions.
England went ahead in just the seventh minute when Smith and impressive centre Henry Slade combined to send Tuilagi in at the corner.
But the try came at a cost with the injury-prone Tuilagi, who started the match with a heavily-strapped leg, immediately limping off.
Smith, taking over the kicking duties from Farrell, made no mistake with a tricky conversion.
Flyhalf Pollard’s first penalty reduced the deficit but England hit back with their second try.
England, led by stand-in skipper, Courtney Lawees, quickly recycled ball from a scrum out wide to the right where Max Malins, Tuilagi’s replacement, sprinted clear.
From the back of an ensuing ruck, scrumhalf Ben Youngs’s pop pass found Steward, who forced his way over despite the attention of three defenders including Kolisi.
Smith again added the conversion to leave England 14-3 ahead.
But South Africa stayed in touch through the boot of Pollard, whose first-half haul included a 54-metre penalty.
Smith, however, maintained his 100 percent record off the tee with a penalty to put England 17-12 ahead at half-time.
South Africa, having failed to dominate the scrum, brought on their celebrated ‘Bomb Squad’ replacement front row early in the second half.
But although they forced two penalties, Pollard was off-target with both kicks.
England, having conceded 19 penalties in last week’s win over Australia, gave Pollard another chance and this time he was on target as he passed the 600-point barrier in Tests.
England’s lead had been cut to two points with 25 minutes still left.
But South Africa then declined a kickable penalty in favour of an attacking line-out only for Malins to hold up Kwagga Smith over the try-line.
South Africa, however, led for the first time in the match at 18-17 when Elton Jantjies kicked a 63rd-minute penalty.
The lead only last a minute, however, as Slade and wing Joe Marchant released Quirke, winning just his second cap, for a debut Test try.
Smith converted and England were back in front at 24-18.
But England were a man down when reserve forward Will Stuart was yellow carded and the Springboks made their advantage count when Mapimpi – who scored one of South Africa’s two tries in their 32-12 World Cup final win, went in at the corner.
Jantjies could not convert the brilliant Mapimpi’s 20th try in 25 Tests leaving England one point clear at 24-23 with just 10 minutes left.
But the 18th penalty conceded by England allowed Jantjies to kick South Africa into a 26-24 lead.
The Springboks were reduced to 14 men when Kolisi was sin-binned for taking out Marchant in the air, leaving the way clear for Smith to add the final twist.
Tries: Manu Tuilagi, Freddie Steward, Raffi Quirke
Conversions: Marcus Smith (3)
Penalties: Smith (2)
Try: Makazole Mapimpi
Penalties: Handre Pollard (5), Elton Jantjies, Frans Steyn
15 Freddie Steward, 14 Joe Marchant, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Manu Tuilagi, 11 Jonny May, 10 Marcus Smith, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Tom Curry, 7 Sam Underhill, 6 Courtney Lawes (captain), 5 Jonny Hill, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Jamie Blamire, 1 Bevan Rodd
Substitutes: 16 Nic Dolly, 17 Joe Marler, 18 Will Stuart, 19 Charlie Ewels, 20 Sam Simmonds, 21 Alex Dombrandt, 22 Raffi Quirke, 23 Max Malins
15 Willie le Roux, 14 Jesse Kriel, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Kwagga Smith, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Ox Nche
Substitutes: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Franco Mostert, 20 Jasper Wiese, 21 Herschel Jantjies, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Frans Steyn