England got their autumn off to a good, albeit nerve-wracking start, with a 12-11 victory over South Africa at Twickenham.
The Springboks dominated the first half, before England’s riposte in the second, and the match was in the balance right up until the final whistle.
- Elliot Daly – 5
Struggled to deal with the contested high balls and, coming on to the ball, should have owned the space that South African players took up instead. His powerful left boot was used effectively in conjunction with Owen Farrell, as both an offensive touch-finder and a way to alleviate pressure within his own 22. He offered little threat as a counter-attacker, as the Springboks pinned England inside their own half for much of the game.
- Jack Nowell – 6
An industrious display from Nowell, who looked eager for work on and off his wing throughout the game. He seemed on the cusp of breaking out on a couple of occasions, but just couldn’t quite get the openings he needed to really hurt South Africa. Fulfilled all his defensive responsibilities against the dangerous Aphiwe Dyantyi.
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- Henry Slade – 6
There was a clear chemistry with Nowell outside him and Slade made some good defensive reads, but there was little offensive impact from the Exeter man. He was able to exert more influence in the second half, as England picked up the tempo and played with a confidence that looked to be missing in the first 40.
- Ben Te’o – 5
Te’o looked like a man who hasn’t played much rugby in the last six months. There were gaps in defence between him and Slade and he struggled to track Damian de Allende, as well as shift outwards when South Africa put some width on the ball. That said, when the Boks ran at him with one-out runners, he was powerful in driving them backwards.
- Jonny May – 8
There was not a blade of grass May didn’t cover at Twickenham. It wasn’t the kind of game for a winger to flourish offensively in, but his chasing of kicks was excellent and he constantly harried Springbok receivers and helped make the tactical kicking games of Farrell and Ben Youngs look so effective. Embarked on a slaloming counter-attack in the second half which really energised England.
- Owen Farrell – 7
Given the context of the game, there was not much more you could have asked of Farrell than what he gave. He defended resolutely in the first half and opened up the game as a playmaker in the second. His tactical kicking was strong, he knocked over nine of England’s 12 points and put his body on the line at the gain-line to create space for his teammates. Ripped the ball from Lood de Jager to help England see out the win.
- Ben Youngs – 7
One of the better performances from Youngs in an England jersey over the last year, as the scrum-half had plenty of success with his box-kicking and made multiple effective one-on-one tackles on England’s try line. His distribution, on the few occasions England had a sustained period of possession, was sharp and accurate.
- Alec Hepburn – 4
A tough day at the office for Hepburn who was penalised for collapsing a maul and was given a real work out by Frans Malherbe at the scrum. He ended up being replaced at half time by his club teammate Ben Moon.
- Dylan Hartley – 6
Hartley had a good game at Twickenham, losing just one lineout and delivering quick ball at the scrum, where England were overpowered. Did the nuts and bolts for England and made some crucial tackles when the home side were having to weather significant South African pressure in the first half.
- Kyle Sinckler – 7
The scrum went well initially but as the game went on, Steven Kitshoff began to turn the screw on Sinckler. An unnecessary offside penalty also blotted the prop’s copybook but he did have plenty of success around the gain-line, both as a carrier and a tackler. He got his impressive handling and passing game working in the second half, too.
- Maro Itoje – 6
The lock had a tough start to the game, giving away a penalty at the lineout and then took a yellow card which saved England from an almost certain try, but fortunately for Itoje, England actually weathered his sin bin period with a plus three swing on the scoreboard. Definitely grew into the game in the second half, offering much more of a carrying presence.
- George Kruis – 6
Kruis was England’s favoured target at the lineout and delivered quick, clean ball off the top. He had one infraction at a defensive maul but generally competed legally, managing one steal and helping throw off the usually accurate Malcolm Marx.
- Brad Shields – 6
Shields was solid, but perhaps overshadowed by his back row colleagues. Got through his fair share of work around the fringes and demonstrated impressive line speed. Killed an impressive England attack with an audacious offload attempt in the final 10 minutes, however.
- Tom Curry – 7
A strong showing in a relatively flat first half England performance. His tackling was powerful and dislodged the ball on one South African carry, whilst his own carrying was effective, regularly making metres over the gain-line. He also had an effect at the breakdown and was noticeably vocal, as he looked to be gaining more comfort in England’s seven jersey. Unfortunately for England, he hobbled off just a minute into the second half.
- Mark Wilson – 8
Not the powerhouse carrying display England usually seek from their eights, but it was a very competent performance from the Newcastle back rower. His work rate shone through at the breakdown and with his support play, whilst he dealt well with the high balls inside his own 22. He carried well, too, just not in a domineering fashion. His support on May and Nowell’s break in the final quarter of the game was the perfect illustration of his energy and work rate.
- Jamie George – 6
The hooker had 100% success with his lineout throwing after entering the contest and put himself about in England’s crucial late defensive stand.
- Ben Moon – 7
Moon didn’t come on and dominate the scrum, but he did stay square, matched his opposite number and at least created a stronger platform for England to attack and defend off of. He won a crucial scrum penalty with less than 10 minutes to go.
- Harry Williams – 5
Couldn’t match the impact Moon had from the bench and had difficulty dealing with Thomas du Toit.
- Charlie Ewels – n/a
Came on with just a few minutes to play and didn’t really have a chance to affect the game.
- Zach Mercer – 7
Offered some immediate attacking impetus, running at the space between Springbok defenders and eagerly looking to free up his arms for offloads.
- Danny Care – 6
Care was largely limited to a defensive role after coming on, but alleviated pressure well with some good box-kicking.
- George Ford – 5
The fly-half got himself held up in a maul late in the game, conceding the penalty and possession.
- Chris Ashton – 6
Showed a couple of nice touches after coming on relatively late but didn’t have too much opportunity to influence the game.
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