SIR CLIVE WOODWARD: Marcus Smith is a natural winner and therefore his kick to win was never in doubt … but England beat South Africa the hard way and Eddie Jones will know they have plenty of room to improve.
I suggested saturday that Marcus Smith would win for England by one point with a drop goal in extra time, but I’ll settle for a last minute penalty from the young Harlequins fly-half!
Like the rest of the England team, Smith was on the defensive for most of the second half and we have yet to see the best of him in England’s attack, but my goodness he has a great temper. And he is a born winner.
He kept kicking his goals all day in a tumultuous competition that really got his pulse racing. And when the time came, when his team needed him, he delivered.
When he got close to that kick, I had no doubt that he would nail it. I can guarantee you that Quins won’t doubt him either. Smith was born for that moment.
And then, to round out an afternoon of learning lessons for the young brigade, Freddie Steward, with glowing lionheart Eben Etzebeth charging and leaping for the last time, flew off again to win the final challenge of a nail-biting game.
England did it the hard way, sure, and when the excitement and celebrations die down, I trust Eddie Jones will go through the match in some detail and point out how the victory could have been more easily achieved and the areas that England need to improve from. on the way to Rugby World Cup 2023.
With the Boks, as they always do, picking up speed in the second half with the arrival of the Bomb Squad, life suddenly became very difficult and tense after the break.
England knew it was coming and it was difficult to counter it. The power of the Boks rose, discipline slipped with 10 penalties in a row and everything seemed to go wrong, but England’s heart never faltered.
In my opinion, England needed to be 15 points ahead at halftime to disrupt South Africa’s game plan, which invariably depends on them taking massive control of the game in the second half. Less than that and you risk getting involved in a dogfight in the second half, which is what happened.
Both attempts were excellent, there was so much to enjoy. Manu Tuilagi’s relentless try preparation reminded me of that crescendo of the game that led England to their first try against New Zealand in the World Cup semi-final when it was Tuilagi again who stepped over the line.
It was magnificent and a good omen, but his spirits faded when Tuilagi got up from scoring clutching his ribs or side. He had dived, not outlandishly or boastfully, but to make any last minute rigging impossible, and in fact the Boks barely laid a hand on him, but he knew immediately that he had done some damage on impact. Hopefully, it’s not too serious.
Steward, so impressive on defense, was also good on offense for the second down, making the opening bust and then appearing on the blind side when the ball was recycled to go through a pair of defenders.
This was all very encouraging, but England needed 40 minutes of excellence and more scoring to put pressure on the Boks. Hit while the iron is hot.
They didn’t do that and there were two incidents in the last few minutes that summed it up. A 10-yard lineout of attack, but it took them forever to meet. And then Kyle Sinckler came over to chat with Jamie Blamire, who had an overall good game. He took all the momentum off, allowed the Boks to settle in and a poor lineout drill followed, which ended with England on the back foot and the Boks earning a penalty. You can’t get away with such a sloppy game.
Then, with the clock ticking at 40 minutes, England stopped the possession of a Boks 22 abandonment. They needed to be on red alert, but instead Youngs hooked the ball over his shoulder into the corner, which the grateful Boks handled comfortably. . Very frustrating.
The second half was completely different, an effort with their backs to the wall that England seemed to lose at times. However, they stood their ground and I applaud Eddie for his trust in Raffi Quirke, whom he brought in with half an hour to go. His clinical intent, beautifully designed by Joe Marchant, was key and brought England to life.
It was still a nervous but compelling finish, but England got there. They will play better than this in the future, but this is surely the huge scalp that will convince them of that.