David Legge June 10, 2012
Clash of the big backs ... Manu Tuilagi is tackled by Frans Steyn. Photo: AFP
DURBAN, South Africa: South Africa maintained their dominance over England with a 22-17 victory Saturday in the Test debut of Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer.
It was the eighth win on the trot since 2006 for the green and gold over the Red Roses and a fiercely physical clash was won in the second half when fly-half Morne Steyn and centre and new captain Jean de Villiers scored tries.
Steyn had a rare off day with his goal kicking, fluffing three of seven shots, but landed a couple of late penalties to give his team a 10-point advantage before left wing Ben Foden halved it with a stoppage-time try.
Fly-half Owen Farrell succeeded with his four penalty attempts for England, who tackle South Africa twice more during a three-week tour, in Johannesburg next Saturday and on June 23 in Port Elizabeth.
A number of players finished the match bloodied and bruised with South Africa-born England inside centre Brad Barritt retiring before the hour mark because of a badly swollen eye.
De Villiers, the first centre to lead the Springboks in 88 years, said he was proud of his team, especially as they had less than a week to prepare after playing Super 15 rugby last weekend.
"The result was great although our performance had flaws -- we made some wrong decisions out there. It was a very physical encounter and we will learn from it," he promised.
England flanker and skipper Chris Robshaw said: "We came out all guns blazing in the second half but, unfortunately, they got an early score and managed to build pressure on us.
"Obviously, we wanted to win the first Test, but it is onwards and upwards now with a lot of hard work ahead. In the closing stages we put our stamp on the game and must learn to do that for the full 80 minutes."
A tight opening half offered few try-scoring chances and ended 6-6 with all the points coming via penalties with Farrell twice putting the visitors ahead and Steyn twice levelling.
Six Nations runners-up England impressed at the breakdown, slowing down South African ball, but were penalised several times by referee Steve Walsh for early engagement at scrums.
Farrell put England ahead on seven minutes after debutant Springbok lock Eben Etzebeth did not roll away from the tackle and Steyn restored equality seven minutes later from his first kick at goal.
England won a vital turn-over inside their 22-metre area when South Africa threatened to score after several breaks from scrum-half Francois Hougaard took the green and gold close to the try-line.
A superb break from No 8 Ben Morgan culminated in a penalty for England which Farrell slotted between the posts after 27 minutes and the visitors were ahead again.
However, the advantage lasted just three minutes before leading 2011 Rugby World Cup points scorer Steyn kicked his second penalty after England were caught offside.
England were expected to have the upper hand at the line-outs against debutants Etzebeth and Juandre Kruger, but they went with the throw until just before half-time when England 'stole' one after a deflection.
Steyn had a chance to put the Springboks ahead in first-half stoppage time, but easily the most difficult kick of the half from close to the touchline drifted right of the posts.
South Africa were a transformed team from the start of the second half, winning more breakdown ball, and far quicker, and by the hour mark had established a 16-6 advantage through a couple of tries.
A midfield break by outstanding left wing Bryan Habana was followed on by De Villiers and prop Jannie du Plessis, and ended with Steyn selling a dummy to go over far out.
England were pinned in their half and had a let-off when South Africa opted to run a close-range penalty that failed to yield any reward, much to the fury of a visibly tense Meyer.
But the disappointment was soon forgotten as another Habana break led to a second try with De Villiers taking a JP Pietersen pass and cutting in to dot down.
Farrell kicked two penalties within three minutes to cut the South African advantage to 16-12 before Steyn atoned for three consecutive misses by slotting a penalty.
Another Steyn penalty made the game safe at 22-12 before Foden eluded centre Francois Steyn to dive over in the corner for a consolation try that Farrell could not convert.
SOUTH AFRICA 21 (Morne Steyn, Jean de Villiers tries; Steyn 4 pens) def ENGLAND 17 (Ben Foden try; Owen Farrell 4 pens)