It was a very fast start for the England in the first Test, as Elliot Daly put the visitors on the board with a long-range effort from 10m inside his own half. A few minutes later, Mike Brown touched down with Owen Farrell adding the extras to give England a 10-0 lead. South Africa then scored their first points of the afternoon with a penalty but England hit back with two tries in quick succession – Daly and Farrell running in their tries from the wide channels to increase their lead to 24-3.
In last year’s Autumn Internationals and at the beginning of the 2018 Six Nations, England became known for being fast-starters but that soon disappeared when their losing streak began. The fact England were able to gain some momentum early on shows that they are able to make an impression on the game from the start.
However, what came next will surely be worrying as South Africa immediately scored a try of their own and went on to score 26 unanswered points to lead England by a score of 29-24. Some good work by Billy Vunipola at the end of the half meant that England received a penalty, which Farrell duly slotted to make the half-time score 29-27. Nevertheless, the first half was a game of two halves with England in total control followed by a period where South Africa constantly had the ball.
Discipline has always been an issue for England, who have a habit of conceding many penalties and turnovers at the breakdown. During the first Test, Mako Vunipola was sent to the sin bin in the second-half, and it was during this period that South Africa stretched their lead. After they were back to 15 on the field, England produced a resurgence to close the gap on the scoreboard but it wasn’t enough.
In the 60 minute period where England did not score any tries, they conceded 17 penalties in comparison to the four of South Africa. Eddie Jones spoke to Sky Sports after the match, “It was a game that we could have won – I have never seen a better 20 minutes by a visiting side at Ellis Park. Our next 60 was a mixture of inconsistency and lack of discipline. We had a penalty count of 17-4 against us. I am proud of the effort of the boys, but we have got to fix that discipline. It is my problem – I select the players and I have to change the behaviours of them. Sometimes that is not easy.”
There were some positives in the match too with Tom Curry making 20 tackles only missing one throughout the match. Moreover, the backs had plenty of running room with Jonny May beating six defenders and making 84 metres while Mike Brown made 102 metres.
South African head coach Rassie Erasmus made some big calls heading into this Test series, after he decided to recall England based players Faf De Klerk and Willie Le Roux. Le Roux had a great season at Wasps and that was backed by head coach Dai Young who met with Erasmus earlier in the year stating, “Willie has been excellent all season for us and is commanding in the air,” Young said. “He spots great angles and hits space by scanning what is in front of him for opportunities and is playing well enough to put his hand up for a recall. I don’t think he can do any more.”
Both of the backs fell out of favour with previous coach Allister Coetzee but Erasmus decided that the Wasps full-back and Sale scrum-half deserved their place in the side. After the first Test, it is clear why the South African head coach made that call as both players combined to stage their first-half comeback. South Africa have also called up Saracens stalwart Schalk Brits, who retired following Saracens win in this year’s Premiership final.
Erasmus spoke of adding Brits to the squad, “Schalk has plenty of experience from playing for Saracens in English and European conditions. It’s a great way for your younger guys to learn the trade of international rugby from these guys. We are busy with building experience, continuity and capacity towards the World Cup, so we want our young players rubbing shoulders with experienced players such as Duane Vermeulen and Willie le Roux.”
The second Test will take place on Saturday 16th June at the Toyota Stadium in Bloemfontein, with kick-off being at 16.05 GMT.
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