England 12-11 South Africa: Eddie Jones' side battle to victory at Twickenham
|Autumn internationals: England 12-11 South Africa|
|England: (6) 12|
|Pens: Farrell 3, Daly|
|South Africa: (8) 11|
|Try: Nkosi; Pens: Pollard 2|
|Coverage: Highlights on BBC Two and online at 19:30 GMT|
England hung on to nick an extraordinary, topsy-turvy contest and get their autumn off to a winning start.
An inexperienced pack were pummelled in the first half and only a series of South African errors and the excellence of Owen Farrell's boot kept them in it at the interval.
But gradually Eddie Jones' men found their discipline and shape, and Elliot Daly's three-pointer from inside his own half had nudged them in front, only for Handre Pollard to knock over a penalty of his own to make it 11-9 to the Boks with time running out.
But Farrell landed his third penalty from out on the left to edge the men in white back in front, and Pollard could only hit the upright with his attempted match-winner at the death.
The Springboks will be wondering how they lost a match they had totally dominated for the first 45 minutes.
Yet England refused to wilt, and for a team and coach under pressure, this was a precious victory, no matter how narrow it may have been.
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England backs to the wall
In a cagey opening England's indiscipline soon hurt them, Pollard banging over an early penalty and Itoje sin-binned for not rolling away after a try-saving tackle on Sbu Nkosi, his third offence in 15 minutes.
Only desperate defence on the line and then an over-thrown line-out from hooker Malcolm Marx prevented a Springbok try, and when Farrell's first penalty levelled it up England had hit back from the ropes.
With Pollard dictating from fly-half and the visitors' pack dominant, England were hanging on, Marx again missing his men with another line-out in the right-hand corner and a series of knock-ons only pausing their progress.
A try was coming, and when Damian de Allende stepped and accelerated to open up the defence, the ball went wide left through the quick hands of Aphiwe Dyantyi and Warren Whiteley to send Nkosi scampering into the corner.
But Pollard pulled the conversion across the face of the posts and when Farrell nailed his second long-ranger, England were somehow just two points down at the interval, having had only 22% of the first-half territory and 33% possession, and not once having breached the South African 22.
Jones' men somehow find a way
With Alec Hepburn getting subbed at half-time and Tom Curry limping off shortly afterwards, England had two more debutants in Ben Moon and Zach Mercer in a team already left callow by injury to so many big name forwards.
Still the infringements piled up, costing Jones' men both momentum and territory, but South Africa continued to cough the ball up in promising positions and from nowhere England had the lead. South Africa were penalised just inside the home half and full-back Daly clattered his kick over from 46 metres for an improbable 9-8 scoreline.
Confidence began to flow. Farrell cut through before Henry Slade found Daly on his outside, but the full-back stepped inside and looked for Jonny May on the wing too late, and the chance was gone.
Itoje went on the charge and then May counter-attacked from deep, swerving through a maze of green shirts before setting Jack Nowell away to do the same.
Pollard stroked over a penalty of his own from distance to nick back the lead with 13 minutes to go but it was now all England, Daly again ignoring May on his outside but the wing then scything through, only for Brad Shields to spill the ball in the tackle three metres out as he looked for the pass back inside.
The chance came. England mangled the Springboks at the subsequent scrum and Farrell stroked over his third dead-eyed penalty to make it 12-11.
It had become a beautifully flawed thriller. Pollard clipped the outside of the right post with a huge penalty with four minutes to go and then his forwards thundered to within 10 metres of the England line.
They spurned the chance to work a drop-goal and paid the price when Farrell stripped Lood de Jager and the ball was cleared.
With the clock red Farrell then smashed into a tackle without seemingly using his arms. It looked like a penalty but referee Angus Gardner went to his TMO and decided it was legal, and somehow England were home.
Reaction to England's win
England head coach Eddie Jones: "We got through 80 minutes, there was sharp resistance and toughness in our play so I'm really pleased with our boys.
"We stuck at it, we stayed in the arm wrestle. We did the simple things well, we had to keep them on the back foot and we did that.
"The game just broke up, we weren't quite good enough to take advantage of a couple of opportunities but we were good enough to get the points."
Brian Moore, former England hooker: "South Africa didn't make the most of their chances in the first half, but the defensive effort was astonishing throughout for England. They must take immense credit just as much as South Africa must take criticism."
Matt Dawson, former England scrum-half on BBC Radio 5 live, referring to Farrell's late tackle: "If it was role reversal here and a South African had smashed one of the England players we would be asking for a penalty, but we will take it.
"England were under fire in the first half, so to come back in the way they did to win it was brilliant."
England: Daly; Nowell, Slade, Te'o, May; Farrell, Youngs; Wilson, Curry, Shields; Kruis, Itoje; Sinckler, Hartley, Hepburn
Replacements: Ashton for Nowell (65), Ford for Te'o (73), Care for Youngs (65), Mercer for Curry (42), Ewels for Shields (77), Williams for Sinckler (65), George for Hartley (57), Moon for Hepburn (half-time)
Sin bin: Itoje (16)
South Africa: Willemse; Nkosi, Kriel, De Allende, Dyantyi; Pollard, Van Zyl; Whiteley, Vermeulen, Kolisi; Du Toit, Etzebeth; Malherbe, Marx, Kitshoff.
Replacements: Esterhuizen for Nkosi (60), Jantjes for De Allende (77), Papier for Van Zyl (75), De Jager for Kolisi (65), Snyman for Etzebeth (42), Louw for Malherbe (65), Mbonambi for Marx (75), Du Toit for Kitshoff (65).
Ref: Angus Gardner (Australia)
|Provided by RFU|
|6 (2)||Scrums won (lost)||5 (1)|
|6 (1)||Line-outs won (lost)||14 (4)|
|74 (2)||Rucks/mauls won (lost)||108 (2)|
|164 (15)||Tackles made (missed)||93 (17)|