England responded to their defeat in Joahnnesburg with a similarly frustrating performance in Bloemfontein, starting brightly and racing into a substantial early lead, only to let South Africa back into the game and lose their composure.
The Springboks recorded a well-deserved 23-12 win on the occasion of Tendai Mtawarira’s 100th cap and England were left once more in a position of having taken one step forward, only to then take two steps back.
We have rated all 23 players on a tough and testing outfit at the Free State Stadium.
- Elliot Daly – 6
An improved display from the one in Johannesburg. Offensively, Daly was regularly deployed at 15, joining the back line between Henry Slade and the wings, providing the speed and quick hands to put both wings away, including assisting on Jonny May’s first half try.
- Jonny May – 7
Showcased his speed to scorch passed the South African defence for a try, whilst also regularly looking for work off of his wing, including putting Mike Brown in for an early try on the left wing. Provided a good kick chase and competition for the ball on the right wing, too.
- Henry Slade – 5
Slade ran some hard lines which tested the South African defence but, just as in Johannesburg, he was caught narrow defensively on a couple of occasions, with none of the comfort England’s wings are used to with Jonathan Joseph. Good and quick hands, as ever.
- Owen Farrell – 5
A mixture of good and bad from the England captain. A try-saving tap tackle on Damian de Allende and an undefendable fizzing pass for May to put Brown in for a try were among the highlights, whilst a forward pass just metres from his own try line and twice opting to turn down three points for lineouts among the errors, in hindsight.
- Mike Brown – 7
Brown took his try well and looked more comfortable in defence than he had a week before, regularly moving into full-back as part of a pendulum with Daly. Showed good hands to keep alive the ball in midfield and set up May’s early score. Made two try-saving tackles at full-back.
- George Ford – 5
Did not quite have the same attacking impact in Bloemfontein that he did in Johannesburg, with the likes of Farrell, Daly and May popping up with the key passes to put players through holes or round the edge with overlaps. Had his defence tested and exposed on occasion by the powerful Springbok carriers, too.
- Ben Youngs – 6
Nearly gifted South Africa a try with a wide pass intercepted by de Allende but was otherwise solid, if not spectacular for England. Seemed to have his kicking game at altitude more finely-tuned than a week previous, with effective clearances and contestable box-kicks. Wasted a break in the second half.
- Mako Vunipola – 6
The loosehead had the better of Frans Malherbe in the scrum and put in some dominant tackles on the gain-line but was lucky not to see yellow for a needless shove of Pieter-Steph du Toit’s head on the floor.
- Jamie George – 7
A much cleaner performance from George, with the hooker connecting on 13 of his 14 throws and not giving away multiple penalties, as happened in Johannesburg. Still not offering the offensive dynamism we have seen from him many times before when called upon from the bench, but a solid performance nonetheless.
- Kyle Sinckler – 5
Struggled initially against Tendai Mtawarira but the contest evened out as the first half went on. He was busy defensively in the loose but couldn’t offer the same offensive impact he usually does from the bench. Steven Kitshoff forced a penalty try out of him before he left the field in the second half.
- Joe Launchbury – 5
Typically industrious on the fringes and at attacking breakdowns early on but failed to offer the ability in the loose that he is capable of as a ball-carrier. Faded out of the game in the second half, which was unsurprising given his recent injury, the game being at altitude and no second-row cover on the bench.
- Maro Itoje – 6
An improvement from the first Test, with Itoje a recipient of 10 of George’s 14 throws at the lineout, as well as making several dominant tackles on the gain-line. Held up Kitshoff to prevent a South African try in the second half but had a key knock-on when England were building pressure.
- Brad Shields – 7
An encouraging first start from Shields. Read South Africa well to grab an intercept and steal a lineout, whilst also showing good body control and balance over the ball at the breakdown.
- Tom Curry – 7
One of the few shining lights in the England pack, securing a couple of turnovers and putting pressure on South African kickers and first receivers. Saved a try, too, with an important turnover at the maul, working his way up the middle and getting his hands on the ball.
- Billy Vunipola – 5
Popped up with a couple of big carries but certainly not his best performance in an England jersey. Drifted out too wide in defence which allowed Duane Vermeulen to step back inside and score South Africa’s opening try, as well as a missed tackle on his opposite number later in the half. Left the game just prior to half-time with an injury.
- Luke Cowan-Dickie – 6
Successful with his two lineout throws and added some punch as a carrier.
- Joe Marler – 6
A nice cut-back pass as a first receiver showed there’s more to his game than simply the set-piece.
- Harry Williams – 5
Struggled to live with Kitshoff at the scrum after replacing Sinckler and didn’t have much opportunity with ball in hand.
- Mark Wilson – 6
A late cameo with few opportunities to influence the game.
- Nathan Hughes – 5
Replaced Vunipola just before the half but was unable to put a positive stamp on the game. Saw yellow late on for a needless penalty playing the ball when he was off his feet and sat out the final 10 minutes of the game.
- Ben Spencer – n/a
Came on too late to have any real impact on the game.
- Danny Cipriani – 6
Probably arrived too late to have any real chance of changing the game but did show several nice touches, including a basketball over-the-top offload, some quick hands and a deft grubber kick. Impossible to compare to Ford’s 65-minute shift but did his chances of starting the third Test no harm at all.
- Denny Solomona – 6
Came on late and wasn’t able to influence the game.
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