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England player ratings vs South Africa | Autumn Nations Series

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by PA)

England player ratings: This was a November heavyweight clash that lived up to its box office billing, the outcome going right down to the wire before the 80th-minute Marcus Smith penalty edged England to their gripping 27-26 Autumn Nations Series victory over the Springboks. They had stormed into the fray like a raging bull, scoring more points in under 20 minutes than they managed in the entire World Cup final match two years ago.

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Eleven was the furthest they got ahead, a margin cut to five points by the break and when an avalanche of penalties against them left England hanging midway through the second half, the Springboks jumped a point ahead on 64 minutes, sparking an extraordinary finish. The lead flipped over and back and over again, there was a pair of yellow cards brandished and a whole pile of the edge-of-your-seat incidents further added to the drama.

In the end, the penalty count was 18-8 against England but they showed incredible resilience to see off this duress and sneak the win that will have Eddie Jones believing his revamped squad is on the right track towards 2023 World Cup glory following their three-game November winning streak.   

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It was the sort of jaw-dropping climax that would have the absent Rassie Erasmus seething if he was there running water for his Springboks, livid that the hosts had somehow found a way to win the day even though they had been scrummed and mauled backwards. Here are the RugbyPass England player ratings live from Twickenham:

FREDDIE STEWARD – 9
Spoke enthusiastically during the week about his love for going in the air and catching high balls and he immediately showed this by fetching and breaking to invite the crowd to quickly join the action. His try on 17 minutes was sweetly finished, a further feather in his cap being that he helped its creation with an earlier pass to send Max Malins away. Carried on industriously in the second half, initially making an important read that tempted Siya Kolisi to butcher a two-on-one. Brilliant mark soon after and it was this confidence under the high ball that ended the game, Steward getting poleaxed by Eben Etzebeth, England getting the penalty and Smith kicking it dead.

JOE MARCHANT – 8
Described by Jones as the ideal candidate to surprisingly start on the basis of how the Springboks would look to play against England, his second-ever Test start began with an adventurous aerial catch and it soon became even more eventful as the unfortunate exit of Manu Tuilagi resulted in him switching to his more familiar No13 midfield position. Showed over-enthusiasm when blown for being ahead of a potentially troubling Jonny May kick through on 28 minutes. Was there when England needed him most, though, breaking for Raffi Quirke to score and then jumping in the air in the incident that left Kolisi yellow carded.  

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HENRY SLADE – 9 
Jones’ most selected starter in England’s ten-game 2021 schedule, his ninth appearance of the year showcased how much of his importance in making his country’s tick. It was his sweet hands that got Tuilagi in at the corner on seven minutes and having then moved to inside centre with the No12 injured, he saw out the rest of the opening half as a source of further encouragement. His thrilling offload then generated the third England try that put them back in front on 65 minutes before the grandstand finish.  

MANU TUILAGI – 6, MAX MALINS – 8
Tuilagi ran out with the more familiar No12 on his back unlike last week’s cameo as a false No14 but he sadly didn’t hang around too long. His heavily strapped right leg was a bit of a giveaway that there might be an issue and he limped out of the contest after expertly diving in at the corner to score the game’s opening points. What England lost in physicality was made up for, though, by Malins’ breezy nonchalance. He was integral in the move for his team’s second try and looked dangerous every time he got on the ball. He then made two try-saving interventions in the second half, first tackling Cobus Reinach and then holding Kwagga Smith up over the line.

JONNY MAY – 7
The leading England try-scorer in the Jones era fashionably looked the part with his mo’ but his hands weren’t as attractive at times. He made some good yardage in traffic in the lead up to the Tuilagi try but two fumbles allowed the Springboks some breathing space, his second error costing three penalty points. Redeemed himself with an important advance in the Steward score and showed improved hands when tidily dealing the next Willie le Roux kick ahead. Faded for a while in the second half as the action was elsewhere, but he ultimately helped keep England calm going down the finishing stretch. 

MARCUS SMITH – 8
The biggest game of his fledgling Test career started enterprisingly with excellent spatial awareness identifying the opportunity for Slade to enjoy the assist for the scoring Tuilagi. Was happy to continue orchestrating through the pass rather than attack the line himself. Three out of three off the tee in the first half was solid. The second half was quite the cauldron with England under the pump but he brilliantly kept his composure. It was his kick that led to the yellow-carded Kolisi error and he then bravely competed for the ball that forced the foul from Frans Steyn that gave the youngster the winning kick. An excellent step forward in his development.  

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BEN YOUNGS – 7
The centurion Test half-back lives for these sorts of occasions but there was one annoying kick out on the full and a curious choice to kick away possession that allowed the Springboks to end the first half on their terms just five points down rather than give his team a final chance to attack. Had passed well but gave way for Quirke on 50 minutes having kicked more times from the hand than Smith would do in the entire 80 minutes. Subbing Youngs that early was a bold move by Jones as there were no other backs then left on the bench at that stage but Quirke was smashing and his try a joyous joy. 

BEVAN RODD – 7
Emerged unscathed in his debut last weekend but this was another level altogether, a jump into a much deeper end. Would have had his confidence soaring winning a penalty on a Springboks feed eleven minutes in, Trevor Nyakane getting done. It was his determined tackle that then gave Smith the penalty kick for 17-6 on 24 minutes. Was driven back in a dominant Ox Nche tackle eleven minutes later and was off on 48 minutes for Joe Marler. Left with his head held high as the problems that emerged at the scrum were on the other side.  

JAMIE BLAMIRE – 7 
A weird pick in the sense that he hasn’t even started a game this season for his club but he fitted in sweetly in an extravagant England start. Hit his rucks and showed good hands taking a pass back from Kyle Sinckler after a short throw and then gathering a South African overthrow near halftime. Hung around until 60 minutes when Nic Dolly came on for a debut. Was missed as well as two England lineouts went astray with the game in the melting pot.  

KYLE SINCKLER – 6
Left his scrum coach feeling proud against the Wallabies for the way he carried on despite a knock and he started imperiously here, beaming with an early scrum penalty. Seemed to run out of gas, though, as he went on to concede a flurry of penalties and was taken from the contest on 56 minutes. Replacement Will Stuart was yellow-carded eleven minutes later, paying the price for coming in at the side of a maul.   

MARO ITOJE – 8 
One of the three players in this England side to have started all three Tests in the Lions series, he quickly got into the spirit of the occasion by helping to fire up his team’s scrum and have them hammering away physically at the breakdown. A lesser player would have crumbled amid the second-half onslaught and while he did give away the ruck penalty that allowed Steyn to put the South Africans 26-24 ahead, he dusted himself down and led the compelling fightback. Finished as his team’s most frequent ball carrier along with Steward.  

JONNY HILL – 7 
A year and a dozen caps into his Test career and a week after he was his team’s top tackler versus the Wallabies, Hill initially looked very good only to go on and get pulled on the hour mark with the Springboks in the ascendency at maul and scrum. His replacement Charlie Ewels was soon in TMO drama, a clash with Etzebeth heavily reviewed before it was decided it was just a penalty offence.  

COURTNEY LAWES – 8
Skipper for the day in the absence of the injured Owen Farrell, he was another who rode the roller coaster with great enthusiasm, revelling in the many ups before the exhausting downs left England needing a late change. Had collapsed the maul that allowed the Springboks to get back to 17-12 and was ultimately taken off with seven minutes remaining, Sam Simmonds seeing the game out. The captain was spotted celebrating prematurely, racing onto the pitch thinking the game was over when it wasn’t.          

SAM UNDERHILL – 7
Showed wonderful dexterity with an immaculate scoop off the floor on 33 minutes that was nearly a try-maker, but he went on to suffer amid the penalty momentum that the Springboks generated. Was penalised when going for a poach on 54 minutes and that was the end for him, Alex Dombrandt arriving to add soakage to the pressure. He did well, finishing as a joint top tackler with Tom Curry.

TOM CURRY – 8 
Came at the Springboks here in the different role of England No8 compared to being the Lions No7 during the summer and was another who shone brightly when his team flew through the early exchanges. A highlight was the excellent turnover that allowed Smith to kick a first-half penalty. He finished the game as the England captain with Lawes going on and his grit was pivotal to England holding their nerve and he tackled his way into double figures.

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