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South Africa withstand stirring England fight back at Ellis Park

16 June 2012

  • First half blitz from South Africa paves way for Jo'burg victory
  • Two Ben Youngs tries and Toby Flood boot spark second-half fightback

South Africa 36 England 27

South Africa clinched a series victory over England with a thrilling 36-27 triumph in Johannesburg, but not before the Stuart Lancaster’s side had given them a real scare with a stirring second-half fight back at Ellis Park.  

England started poorly as the rampant Springboks ran in three tries in a one-sided opening quarter, with the visitors struggling to gain any meaningful possession of territory.

But having trailed by 19 points early on and 25-10 at the break, England regrouped impressively in the second half and two quick fire Ben Youngs tries gave hope of their greatest ever comeback in a Test match.

That was from 12 points against Australia in 2002 and the boot of Toby Flood meant the gap was only four as the game entered the final ten minutes, but a late JP Pietersen try finally killed off their hopes as South Africa sealed a hard-fought success.

England flanker Tom Johnson carries strongly against South Africa at Ellis Park

Photo: Getty Images

The signs had looked ominous from the start for England as Ben Morgan and Ben Foden were forced to make desperate late tackles to keep out Bryan Habana inside the first 90 seconds. But it proved only a temporary reprieve as Willem Alberts scored a controversial first try.

Youngs' feed into an England five-metre scrum rolled straight through without any contact from a front row and when it rolled out of the other side the South Africa flanker to pick up unopposed and dive over for an embarrassingly simple score that Morne Steyn failed to convert.

The nightmare start for England was compounded when Bismarck du Plessis crashed over under the posts for a second try just five minutes later after another sustained spell of home pressure. The decision to award the try went to the TMO, but it was adjudged that the hooker had got the ball down on the line despite the best efforts Jonathan Joseph, leaving Steyn with a simple conversion.

South Africa hooker Bismark Du Plessis powers over to score against England at Ellis Park

Photo: Getty Images

England came close to responding with a try of their own soon after as Foden darted through, but he opted to go alone rather than look wide to the supporting Morgan and ultimately England had to settle for a Flood penalty after a cynical block on Youngs by Marcell Coetzee.

Steyn responded in kind with a simple penalty after England were pinged at the scrum in front of their posts and a brutal first 20 minutes for the tourists was completed when Francois Hougaard darted over from close range.

England were simply unable to deal with the speed and power of the home side's attacks and, after a relentless series of phases from the home forwards had left the men in white stretched to breaking point on their own line, the scrum half showed a quick step to dot down from a couple of yards out – Steyn's second conversion made the scoreline 22-3.

Having been left shell-shocked by South Africa's early blitz, England showed commendable character to hit back with their first try on 23 minutes – Youngs running a quick tap-penalty and releasing Chris Ashton who sent Flood in next to the posts , with the fly half the converting his own effort for the first in a 17-point haul.

England scrum half Toby Flood dives over for his try against the Springboks, five of his 17 point haul

Photo: Getty Images

But South Africa were again quick to hit back, this time Steyn slotting a superbly-struck drop-goal from distance to ensure his side headed in with a richly-deserved 15-point lead at the break.

The Springboks picked up where they had left off at the start of the second period and, after turning down one kickable penalty, Steyn accepted a second in front of the sticks on 46 minutes after England skipper Chris Robshaw deliberately broke up an attack by coming in from an offside position.

It was, though, England who struck next with another opportunistic try as the tide began to turn. A fine Flood kick had given them good position down by the South Africa line and when du Plessis' line-out throw cleared everyone, Youngs was alert enough to catch the ball and squirm over despite the attentions of Alberts.

England captain Chris Robshaw rises to claim a line out against South Africa at Ellis Park

Photo: Getty Images

The score was again awarded after lengthy consultation with the TMO with Flood's conversion reducing the arrears to 28-17.

Steyn kicked another penalty just before the hour mark, but England's growing belief took on new proportions when Youngs poached his second try in the space of eight minutes – the Leicester scrumhalf nipping in from a yard out for a score that mirrored that of Hougaard in the first half.

With the momentum now only heading in one direction, England then produced a huge shove at a scrum on halfway which yielded a penalty that Flood would kick to bring them within four at 31-27 heading into the final 15 minutes.

Home nerves were frayed further when Steyn missed a penalty on 67 minutes, but England's designs on an unlikely victory suffered a fatal blow six minutes later when, after a superb initial catch and weaving run into England's 22, Pietersen was on hand out wide several phases later to dive over unopposed for a game-clinching try.

South Africa vs England Teams

South Africa: Lambie, Pietersen, de Villiers, F. Steyn, Habana, M. Steyn, Hougaard, Mtawarira, B. du Plessis, J. du Plessis, Etzebeth, J. Kruger, Coetzee, Alberts, Spies.

Replacements: Olivier for Lambie (44), Pienaar for Habana (57), Strauss for B. du Plessis (61), W. Kruger for J. du Plessis (59), F. van der Merwe for J. Kruger (62), Daniel for Alberts (52). Not Used: Basson.

England: Foden, Ashton, Joseph, Tuilagi, Strettle, Flood, B. Youngs, Marler, Hartley, Cole, Botha, Parling, Johnson, Robshaw, Morgan.

Replacements: Goode for Joseph (78), Farrell for Strettle (60), Dickson for B. Youngs (75), Corbisiero for Marler (56), Mears for Hartley (75), Palmer for Botha (44), Waldrom for Morgan (47).

Attendance: 60,101

Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland)