Jones scores memorable win as England’s young stars heal old wounds against South Africa

TWICKENHAM, London — There is an argument to be made that England’s dramatic 27-26 win over South Africa at Twickenham on Saturday was Eddie Jones’ greatest masterclass.

Much has been made of this England side since the summer, but no longer will fans be able to jibe this team as “inexperienced” as Jones’ young stars who stood up in a match that boasted all hallmarks of a great game of Test rugby, complete with a tantalising finish.

The air was electric as Marcus Smith stepped up to take a 79th-minute penalty which, if he scored, would see England register a historic victory. It was not a difficult kick, but the weight of the moment hung in the air. All 81,000 eager eyes were focused on the 22-year-old. The normal hush that falls over rugby stadiums whenever a kicker steps up was nowhere to be found, replaced instead by an anxious him.

Experienced captain Courtney Lawes, playing in his 95th Test, recognised the pressure. “Imagine taking that kick,” he told teammate Jonny Hill.

But Smith, like the rest of his young compatriots this autumn, came good once again. The stadium erupted as the ball sailed over the bar as the fly-half punched the air. England knew all they had to do was get their hands on the restart and this historic victory was theirs, the new-look side scoring a victory over the Springboks team that killed Jones’ previous attempt at Rugby World Cup glory.

England bombed out of the traps with Manu Tuilagi crossing the line inside the first five minutes. There were audible groans around the stadium minutes later when he slumped off the pitch injured. No doubt the sight of Kyle Sinckler hobbling off at a similar time in Yokohama at the 2019 Rugby World Cup final was running through the minds of fans.

However, England did not let losing such an influential player stop their flow and they surged into an 11-point lead. Full-back Freddie Steward was sensational under high balls and deservedly got a try and was awarded man of the match.

“The last time we played South Africa I was watching in a student bar,” Steward joked after. “I can’t really believe it. I’m so happy we came away with the win today.”

South Africa played it cool, though, and took their penalties. Slowly they kept the pressure on, building into the game in the way that the world champions are so famous for.

England, meanwhile, enjoyed some success with their scrum, despite Jones being forced to call up third-choice hooker Jamie Blamire and handing Bevan Rodd just his second cap, helping then to a five-point lead at the break. But there was no feeling that the second half was going to be comfortable for England.

They suffered from ill-discipline throughout much of the second period and were lucky that South Africa did not pull further away as Handre Pollard failed to find the rhythm he had in the first half with his kicking. Max Malins was in peak form to stop the Boks from crossing the line and going ahead, but it felt like the hosts might have been letting the game slip from their grasp.

Yet, as a penalty put South Africa ahead, England jolted into action. Henry Slade sent Joe Marchant and Raffie Quirke racing down the centre of the pitch for a try that had Twickenham rocking once again. The atmosphere was cranked up once more when South Africa responded with a Makazole Mapimpi try to set up an enticingly dramatic final 10 minutes.

If you had asked many who the hero of the match would be before the game, Smith’s name would have been a common answer. Despite its relative ease, the kick will go down as one of the greatest of his career and landed Jones the win that he so desperately wanted.

Confusion at the final whistle saw Lawes and some of the England substitutes run onto the pitch to celebrate before the game was done, but they didn’t have to wait long for their moment in the sun as Smith hammered the ball into the crowd.

“It was a good night, wasn’t it?” Jones grinned after the game.

“We’ve got a young team, they probably didn’t realise how important the game was, they just went out there and kept playing and playing and playing and we’re really pleased with them.”

It was far from Jones’ most concrete win, nor was it his prettiest, but it will go down as one of the best.