England v South Africa on Saturday will go down as one of the great Test matches of recent times. England’s 27-26 win over the Rugby World Cup Champions South Africa at Twickenham was a statement of intent that they are back. What made this game even more special for Eddie Jones was that England were hanging on by their fingernails continually in the second half. England conceded 18 penalties mostly due to the demolition job that the Springbok ‘bomb’ squad dished out from the 44th minute. South Africa dominated the collisions and the set-piece and therefore looked odds on to bring England down. And yet, England’s young guns led by Marcus Smith together with the experience of Courtney Lawes and co saw England home.
Jones’s tactical masterpiece
Eddie Jones clearly relished all the talk the week before England v South Africa about how the Springbok pack was going to dominate England’s forwards. Joe Marler was in isolation, Ellis Genge likewise and Jamie George was injured. He resisted the urge to bring back Mako Vunipola and instead backed Bevan Rodd and Jamie Blamire to do the job. They had five caps between them and they were up against the world’s best six front-row forwards. England needed to start fast and they did winning two setpiece penalties in the process. Massive credit goes to Bevan Rodd and Jamie Blamire ably backed by Kyle Sinckler for getting England a platform so early in the game. Yes, they tired and the Springboks did get ascendancy but England were 17-6 up by the time that happened.
It really was a remarkable performance by Sale’s Bevan Rodd. Rodd kept Trevor Nyakane honest whilst Ox Nche turned the screw over Kyle Sinckler. Jamie Blamire more or less hit his jumpers and was active around the field. Blamire held his own over both Bongi Mbonambi and Malcolm Marx. Rodd and Blamire will go back to their clubs knowing that they can scrimmage against the best in the business. What a coup and masterstroke by Eddie Jones.
England’s young guns come of age
There was so much to admire about England’s backs to the wall performance. Freddie Steward was again immense at the back. He will remember barging through three Springbok tackles for his try for a very long time. Marcus Smith was tactically spot on and nailed his kicks. He also linked superbly with Henry Slade to keep the renowned Springbok defense guessing. It is not often you see South Africa’s midfield defense given the runaround. More on Slade in a moment.
What would have pleased Jones is that Smith played the complete game for 80 minutes. He had the presence of mind to chip through when England were chasing the game in the dying minutes that led to Siya Kolisi taking out Joe Marchant in the air. The subsequent penalty by Marcus Smith was enough to claim the victory for England. Speaking of Joe Marchant. What another inspired selection by Eddie Jones? The line that Marchant took off Henry Slade to scythe through Damian de Allende and put Raffi Quirke through for England’s third try was world-class. Marchant has never quite convinced in his international career to date but he did his chances no harm at all on Saturday.
England v South Africa analysis
A piece by Charlie Inglefield.
Strength in depth with more to come
What was pleasing from an England perspective is the strength in depth that England’s management can choose from. Max Malins was a case in point slipping effortlessly into the wing and full-back positions when Manu Tuilagi went off. It was not just Malins’s silky running but his defense also. Holding up Kwagga Smith over the tryline was a key moment in the game. Add in the aforementioned Bevan Rodd, Jamie Blamire together with Raffi Quirke and Alex Dombrandt. England has a nucleus of youngsters who are only going to be better off for the experience of fronting up and beating the world champions.
Sam Simmonds is also back in the fold with plenty of rugby left in him to show that he can bring his club form to the international stage.
Don’t forget the old boys
Henry Slade’s performance showed that he is back to his best. His passing and distribution was of the highest order against South Africa’s blitz defense. Slade had a significant hand in England’s three tries, no mean feat when one considers he was up against Damian de Allende and Lukhanyo Am. Importantly, Marcus Smith and Henry Slade showed what they could do against world-class opposition. The experiment to pit Owen Farrell and Marcus Smith together must surely be jettisoned. Play genuine centres outside of Marcus Smith and you will get England’s backline running freely.
Courtney Lawes showed all of his experience to lead England to glory against South Africa. He leads in the Martin Johnson mould, actions speak louder than words. If Eddie Jones does decide that Owen Farrell has to fight his way back in, then Lawes should be the man to continue for the 2022 Six Nations.
Farrell is now number two to Marcus Smith
Owen Farrell has had little luck in this autumn campaign. Covid-stricken for the Tongan game and then injured against the Wallabies, Farrell is no certainty to be fit for the 2022 Six Nations. It has also allowed Marcus Smith to establish himself in the coveted fly-half jumper. There has been so much discussion around Farrell and whether a Smith/Farrell partnership can work. We should not forget what an outstanding servant to English rugby Farell continues to be. His international career is by no means over but this will be Farrell’s first time looking on the outer to his starting position.
A trio of Marcus Smith, Manu Tuilagi and Henry Slade could be the perfect mix of guile, power and invention. Crucially Smith showed that he had the temperament to tactically lead England’s game management and he kicked his goals. Smith has earned the number ten jumper by right.
England make a statement for 2023
There is still a lot of rugby to be played before the 2023 Rugby World Cup is upon us. But, England has served notice that they will be a strong contender. This autumn has shown that France, Ireland and England can beat anyone with Scotland and Wales not far behind. On European soil, the southern hemisphere heavyweights will have their work cut out.
For England, Eddie Jones deserves credit for buying into the need to refresh his England team. Freddie Steward, Marcus Smith, Adam Radwan, Bevan Rodd, Raffie Quirke, Alex Dombrandt and Jamie Blamire have a handful of caps between them. Yet, they have all taken a significant part in victories over the Wallabies and the world champions South Africa (apart from Adam Radwan). They will be so much better for the experience and therefore England should look forward to a much more positive 2022 Six Nations. A final word on how good the autumn internationals have been. The general standard of rugby has been excellent with some cracking matches in front of full houses. How good is it to see the crowds back?
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