The defeat was England’s ninth in succession to South Africa and it was always likely to be a tall order given the altitude of the Highveld and because the limited preparation evident in South Africa’s performance the previous week was no longer a factor.
But while there was an element of controversy over both of South Africa’s first two tries in the opening eight minutes, England’s start was a dismal and ultimately costly one.
Willem Alberts made one good break before Bryan Habana found space on the left. Ben Morgan thwarted the winger but England made a costly error at the resulting scrum as the ball was allowed to run clean through the channel. Alberts saw the loose ball roll out and even though there was debate over whether he could pick it up, the flanker gathered and darted over.
Hooker Bismarck Du Plessis then barged his way through to spin and touch down. It was a close call as to whether he planted the ball over the line but a try was awarded after video adjudication and converted by Morne Steyn.
England finally registered with a Toby Flood penalty but Morne Steyn added a penalty and Francois Hougaard a third try for the hosts, Morne Steyn pushing the score to 22-3. England claimed their first try midway through the half. Ben Youngs, pictured, took a quick tap penalty and released Chris Ashton, who sent Flood clear. Flood converted his try but the Springboks pushed them back and Morne Steyn added a long-range drop goal.
England rode their luck for a spell after that before Morne Steyn added another three points but England refused to lie down and in the 52nd minute an overthrown Springbok lineout found its way into Youngs’ hands. The scrum-half broke for the line and, despite being caught high by an Alberts tackle, managed to get the ball down for a try awarded after lengthy deliberation.
Flood’s conversion brought the score to a more respectable 28-17 but Morne Steyn then helped himself to another penalty goal. England then, almost inconceivably, suddenly got themselves back within a converted try thanks to a try by Youngs.
Flood added the extras and chipped further away at the lead with another penalty.
However, South Africa killed off the comeback with JP Pietersen flamboyantly diving over for the decisive try.
Scorers: South Africa: Tries: Alberts, Du Plessis, Hougaard, Pietersen. Cons: M Steyn 2. Pens: M Steyn 3. Drop goal: M Steyn. England: Tries: Flood, Youngs 2. Cons: Flood 3. Pens: Flood 2.
South Africa: Lambie; Pietersen, de Villiers, F Steyn, Habana; M Steyn, Hougaard; Mtawarira, B du Plessis, J du Plessis, Etzebeth, J Kruger, Coetzee, Alberts, Spies. Subs: Strauss, W Kruger, van der Merwe, Daniel, Pienaar, Olivier, Basson.
England: Foden; Ashton, Joseph, Tuilagi, Strettle; Flood; Youngs; Marler, Hartley, Cole, Botha, Parling, Johnson, Robshaw, Morgan. Subs: Mears, Corbisiero, Palmer, Waldrom, Dickson, Farrell, Goode.
Referee: A Rolland (Ire). Attendance: 60,101