2018 has not been the best year for England rugby. Having come off the back of two Six Nations titles and a Grand Slam, they were brought down to earth with a fifth place finish in this year’s championship and have been on a losing streak. Heading into this match, England had lost their fifth Test match in a row – six including the defeat to the Barbarians – and many were doubting whether Eddie Jones was able to turn the fortunes of the team around.
Yet in Cape Town, on a pitch not made for running rugby, England worked hard to grind out a result and produce a bit of brilliance near the end to secure the victory. It had been a more controlled performance from Jones’ side. The statistics at the 68th minute, the South Africa had conceded 11 penalties in comparison to England’s five and the Springboks had only won four turnovers, in contrast to England’s eight. The discipline was better, as was the decision making. England took the points at every opportunity knowing that it would be difficult to score a try on such heavy ground.
Apart from this team, there have only been three other occasions when England have won a Test on South African soil, those were in 1972, 1984, 2000. England had also never won a Test at Newlands and never scored a try at Newlands. This team have changed that but it has been a difficult series. There is no denying that. However, England have shown throughout that they have attacking prowess and they need to eliminate the errors at the breakdown and ensure that they are able to control their emotions when ill-discipline takes over.
The first two Test matches saw conditions perfect for running rugby. The stadiums were also at altitude, which meant that South Africa had an advantage in the conditions as they were used to playing above sea-level. Contrastingly, the final test saw conditions more akin to The Rec or Kingsholm in early December.
From the outset, it was clear that this match would be slower with more difficult conditions in the previous Tests. Underfoot it was wet and slippery. It was more likely to be a game about patience, control and most importantly, kicking penalties. The Springboks made a number of changes to their side, while England changed a few of their personnel too.
Decision-making and kicking became vital. Ben Youngs was able to execute his box-kicks from the base of the ruck, while Owen Farrell and Elliot Daly kicked for territory and points. Farrell’s consistent scoring meant that even when South Africa had a chance to lead, they were soon behind again because of a penalty. Each side scored a well-worked try but the performance was all about control and England controlled their ill-discipline to secure the vital win.
The most consistent player and most people’s Man of the Series has been Jonny May, who scored tries in each of the Tests as well as being involved in the creation of others during the first match. The Leicester Tigers winger has been one of England’s leading lights through 2018 with his form at club level translating onto the pitch internationally. May touched down England’s crucial try in the final Test, following an intuitive kick into the space on the right by Danny Cipriani, thanks to his own electric pace.
The combination of May and Cipriani worked in the final Test but earlier on in the series, there was good combination play between Daly, Mike Brown and May to create and deliver many opportunities. Another player who has done well this tour has been Tom Curry. The back-row forward is only 20-years-old has potentially cemented himself as the openside-flanker of the future. A position which England have struggled to fill in recent years.
Eddie Jones told BBC Sport after the match, “May has had an exceptional tour. He’s proved himself a really top-class winger. Scored three tries and probably had a hand in three others. We mentioned Cipriani might have the ability to take the opportunity, which he did. He saw the space, put a well-weighted kick in and the chase was fantastic. Williams, Curry, Slade have all come through and all played in the biggest Test matches and have all shown themselves capable of playing in the World Cup, so it’s been a great period for us, albeit the results have been disappointing.”
The England players will now take a break and then return to their clubs for the start of the English Premiership season with the Autumn Internationals beginning on November 3rd 2018.
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