England’s five-Test losing run came to an end as Owen Farrell marked his first win as captain by kicking six penalties in a 25-10 victory over South Africa at Newlands.
The series had already been surrendered following defeats in Johannesburg and Bloemfontein, but in Cape Town they salvaged some pride with a gutsy display that grew in purpose in the second half.
What started as an ugly spectacle scarred by repeated mistakes eventually developed into a tense climax to the tour that produced two eye-catching moments for both teams: Jess Kriel’s try for the hosts cancelled out by a scorching Jonny May effort.
Danny Cipriani, making his first Test start for a decade, had been a peripheral figure until he delivered the perfect chip into the right corner where May’s electric pace enabled him to win the foot race.
But the biggest winning margin of the series was primarily about the boot of Farrell, who finished with a 20-point haul, and the renewal of English forward might after passive performances in the first two Tests.
The penalty count that had been so damaging at Ellis Park and Free State Stadium was turned on its head with the favourable 14-6 statistic enabling Eddie Jones’s men to keep their foot on the Springboks’ throats once they had seized the lead.
It is a win that relieves the strain on under-pressure coach Jones, who can now enter the autumn series with renewed conviction. Unfortunately, only a paltry crowd of 33,827 was in attendance at Newlands.
The torrential downpour that had swept across Cape Town in the hours before the match stopped in time for kick-off, but enough rain had already fallen to make the pitch treacherous.
Farrell drew first blood through a penalty and there were some promising early signs from England as May repeatedly went hunting for a ball that squirted around unpredictably.
Faf de Klerk was busy winding the visitors up to continue a theme of the series and he matched words with deeds in the 20th minute when he drove back Nathan Hughes five metres in a tackle despite being dwarfed by the No.8.
Both teams blundered their way through a low-quality first half but perhaps the most glaring error of all was when Elliot Daly casually kicked a penalty out of bounds, wasting Tom Curry’s fine turnover that had forced the infringement.
Mike Brown was England’s hardest-working player as he roamed off his wing time and again, and a 6-0 lead opened up when Farrell landed a second penalty.
The disappointing Elton Jantjies and Farrell exchanged penalties before a key moment came – the arrival of the Springboks’ replacement front row from the bench.
Prop Steven Kitshoff has been rampant all series and once again the impact loosehead bulldozed through England, providing quick ball for Warrick Gelant to direct a grubber over the whitewash for Kriel to touch down.
The boot of Farrell continued to frustrate South Africa, however, as two further penalties hit their mark and when England won a scrum penalty in their own 22 their belief grew once more.
The hammer blow came in the 73rd minute when Cipriani directed the ball into the corner complete with back-spin for May to pounce, sweeping the result beyond doubt.