LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 03: Owen Farrell of England celebrates victory with team mates as the TMO approves his tackle during the Quilter International match between England and South Africa at Twickenham Stadium on November 3, 2018 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

This was an old-school battle that showed that the little un’s can beat the big un’s in this frenetic test match. Despite being down on quality, it was a classic nonetheless, where the England defence prevailed 12-10.

In reality, England should have never got close against a Springbok outfit who dominated the first 45 minutes to such an extent, that the 8-6 halftime scoreline looked positively ludicrous. The key difference was the England defence and attitude, that saw them over the line.

But, this is the wonderful thing about sport and rugby in particular. England gained so much energy from preventing the massive South African pack from getting over the line in the first half, that they turned the tables on their previously dominant counterparts in the second half.

The Springboks dominated in all facets of the game; possession, meters gained, penalty county and territory. But when it mattered, they simply could not make the final pass count. Guilty of turning down multiple kickable penalties in favour of attacking line-outs, coach Rassie Erasmus will be devastated that his world class hooker Malcolm Marx had his worst outing in a Springbok jersey.

The Super Rugby MVP made overthrows and fumbled possession that blighted both Marx’s, and Eben Etzebeth’s work when attacking deep into English territory. From those mistakes…. somehow, England managed to clear their lines.

Charlie Inglefield looks at many topics from the England defence, atitude and the key points from the opening International of the November autumn test series.

Leader Farrell guides England home

England were by no means exceptional but they won ‘ugly’, a trait that all international coaches secretly love when the going gets tough. John Mitchell, England’s new defensive coach will rightfully be brimming with pride whilst watching his charges halt the Springboks on the try line when it would have been easier to score.

The fitness and conditioning of this England rugby team will also be a considerable positive to take away. They grew stronger as the game went on, despite making almost a third more tackles than their South African counterparts.

Big moments require your leaders to take control and Owen Farrell was chief amongst them from the kicking tee and making the right decisions under extreme pressure. Much will be said about his borderline shoulder high tackle to decide the match in the last minute. Upon many replays it looks like the Springboks were hard done by. However Farrell deserves much praise for his accuracy from the kicking tee, and his decision making in the pivotal number ten jersey, let alone fighting fire with fire in the tackle.

Sinckler and Wilson impress up front

In a desperately tight game, England needed heroes and Harlequins’ Kyle Sinckler came of age. Much maligned in the Republic over the summer for being out scrummaged by Steven Kitshoff in Bloemfontein, Sinckler again struggled in the tight on Saturday. He did improve at scrum time as the game wore on but also delivered an all-action display in the loose and in defence which has put him up there to be a permanent member of England’s front row.

In the all too rare moments when England were in the ascendancy during that first 40 minutes, Sinckler was everywhere. Likewise with Newcastle’s Mark Wilson who was tireless and aggressive in everything he did. Wilson never gave a backward step to his considerably larger opposite numbers. He deserves his opportunity to go again against the All Black back row next week.

May shone in tightest of defenses

The transition of Jonny May into a world class winger was completed on Saturday. Hugely industrious in both defence and attack, May looked like the only English back who could break through the Springbok defensive line. In a game where the forwards dominated the headlines, May, alongside the best player on the pitch, Damian de Allende broke through the defences with ease.

What England need to do especially against the All Blacks is give May a yard or two to operate in, because he can terrify the very best when given an opportunity. Special mention must go to De Allende, because he was terrific in the centres. He ate up a huge amount of yards in tight confines, shrugged off back rowers and the considerable form of Ben Te’o, at will. De Allende did not deserve to be on the losing side.

England need to consider changes in upcoming All Blacks test

With all the injuries that Eddie Jones has to contend with he is now in the more appealing situation of not changing too much from a victorious team. That said England were found wanting in a number of areas of the game where the mighty All Blacks will not be so forthcoming. Brad Shields, although industrious, went too high in the lead up to Sbu Nkosi’s try and bombed a wonderful opportunity to score  in the second half.

Eddie Jones may consider the exciting talents of Bath’s Zach Mercer who had a highly promising first appearance for England. Gloucester’s Ben Morgan may also come back into consideration as a candidate who can make hard yards against the very best of oppositions.

England may have to look at who replaces the ever improving Tom Curry, who was tireless in his efforts in the open side jersey before succumbing to injury early in the second half. Exeter’s Ben Moon and Harry Williams also made considerable introductions to give Eddie Jones plenty to mull over in his preparations for New Zealand.

Springboks will come back, and England must believe again

The Springboks will come back stronger after this defeat. Yes, the brutal truth is that they made mistakes, yet they were also very good for large parts of the game on Saturday. The likes of Malcolm Marx will not often have an off day like he did at Twickenham – so South African fans must not beat themselves up.

The Springboks are a team on the rise and with Faf de Klerk and Willie Le Roux still to come back in, they will be a big threat to everyone this autumn (as well as next year in Japan).

It was a massively important win by England, no matter how worrying it was to see England’s pack shoved off the ball by the Springbok pack in the first forty minutes. The England team must ‘believe in themselves’ once again.

The All Blacks will be a formidable opposition but, England must take advantage of being at Twickenham and get the crowd on their side.

Crucially the confidence is coming back, something which has been lacking for a while in 2018.

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England v New Zealand – Twickenham. Saturday, November 10. 3:00pm (GMT)

France v South Africa – Stade de France. Sat, Nov 10. 9.05 (FRA)

Main image credit: Embed from Getty Images

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