England coach Eddie Jones has hailed his new-look rugby side after they withstood an early onslaught and came back to beat South Africa 12-11 at Twickenham.
Coach Eddie Jones “couldn’t be prouder” of his makeshift England team after they withstood a first-half battering to emerge 12-11 victors over South Africa and get their November international series off to a morale-boosting start.
England, particularly up front, were missing a host of regulars at Twickenham on Saturday and spent most of the first half desperately defending as they trailed 8-6 at the interval.
However, they found their attacking verve after the break to scrape the win with three penalties by Owen Farrell and one for Elliot Daly.
“(South Africa) have been together for six months – understand that,” the Australian told a news conference.
“We’ve had three training runs where we’ve had 15 players together and we put in a performance like that. The players deserve enormous credit. I couldn’t be prouder of them.”
England were without Billy and Mako Vunipola, Nathan Hughes, Chris Robshaw and Joe Launchbury but the replacements stood up superbly to the Springbok onslaught. Stand-in No.8 Mark Wilson was named man of the match.
“We had a lot of guys new to Test rugby or their first cap and the way they stuck in the fight … when you get in those arm wrestles someone’s going to give and we didn’t give,” Jones said.
Co-captain Dylan Hartley was also delighted with the Alamo defence in the first half, a period during which England failed to once get into the Springbok 22.
“It’s not always scoring points that win you games, it can be defence and there were a couple of key moments where we were under the pump but came out of the other side, which is really rewarding and won us the game,” Hartley said.
Arguably the biggest moment of all, though, came after most of the crowd had risen to acclaim what they thought was England’s victory.
Australian referee Angus Gardner called for the TMO to rule on a crunching tackle by Farrell on Andre Esterhuizen – eventually deciding the five-eighth had made enough of an effort to extend an arm to be deemed legal.
He still faces a possible citing but Jones was in no mood to worry about potentially losing his most important player for next week’s match against New Zealand.
On his team’s failure to turn dominance into a victory, South Africa coach Rassie Erasmus said: “We did a lot well but there were two obvious things we didn’t: finish our opportunities and our discipline.
“We missed Faf (de Klerk) as we always do but I thought the two nines didn’t do badly and we didn’t lose because of inexperience.”
De Klerk and several others were absent because the game fell outside the international window but will be back to face France next week.