England crashed to a fifth successive defeat after a blistering start gave way to a dramatic collapse as South Africa emerged 42-39 winners from a thrilling first Test at Ellis Park.
A scarcely-believable 24-3 lead had been amassed by the 18th minute, with George Ford acting as ringmaster as Mike Brown, Elliot Daly and Owen Farrell ran in superb tries.
But the match was turned on its head when Faf de Klerk orchestrated a stunning first-half comeback supported by the brilliance of Willie le Roux that enabled South Africa to take a 29-27 lead into half-time.
Electric debutant S’busiso Nkosi crossed twice to bring Ellis Park to his feet.
The second half was dominated by the Springboks whose customary physicality was matched by a cutting edge in attack overseen by De Klerk and Le Roux, but it was the boot of Handre Pollard that did most of the scoreboard damage through three penalties.
It was the perfect outcome to celebrate a landmark moment in South African history after back row Siya Kolisi had become the first black captain of their Test team.
Here are the key takeaways from the game.
The Springboks didn’t bring the energy required in the early stages and trailed 24-3 after just 18 minutes, with England aggressive and utterly ruthless with ball in hand.
The visitors were well-structured and efficient in attack, cutting the Boks apart with three tries through Owen Farrell, Elliot Daly and Mike Brown.
Erasmus’ side looked nervous and didn’t look like they believed in their fitness or pace out wide, and seemed unwilling to go for big efforts, but they refused to buckle.
At 21 points down, they looked down and out but came storming back and crossed the line four times through S’busiso Nkosi (2), Faf de Klerk and Willie le Roux to lead at the break.
Superb resolve when it appeared like it was game over.
A monster of a man for just 5′ 6″.
De Klerk continued his superb form that saw him nominated for the Aviva Premiership Player of the Year award with Sale last month with another man-of-the-match performance.
The 26-year-old is a model of consistency any time he gets the ball in hand, with his box kicking, crisp passing, decision-making and ability to marshal his pack effectively around ruck time all at the centre of his skillset.
In addition, his ability to take players into an attack from any position is invaluable, as well as initiating breaks that led to his own try on 20 minutes.
Made superb tackles on Chris Robshaw and Henry Slade in the second half. An absolute work horse.
South Africa improvements
There’s no doubt the Springboks made some poor decisions with dropped balls and some desperate missed tackles, but overall it was a vast improvement under the early Rassie Erasmus reign.
The contest had everything from big hits, strong defences, a bucket load of tries and some back-line flair.
Erasmus’ side showed that if every player reaches the required intensity, no team, not even England with their superior squad depth, will roll them over.
A definite template to build up excitement for the next two Tests in Bloemfontein and Cape Town, however tightness in defence and handling needs to improve.
For spells of that first half England looked a different side from the one that suffered three successive defeats in the Six Nations, but they failed to live up to the standard after the Springboks pegged them following a blossoming start from the Red Rose.
Eddie Jones’s side didn’t let themselves down physically or tactically, but it was their inaccuracy in execution that hurt them, and how they set up in defence.
From George Ford’s poor kicking to Maro Itoje’s concession of too many penalties to Elliot Daly’s kick out over the end line, and the forwards’ inability to get any sort of foothold, the Red Rose wilted as the game progressed.
In contrast, if they held on to the ball and went through the phases and stayed patient, they could have opted for a different route to break down the Springboks defence.
They need to make changes and come up with a better game plan ahead of next Saturday’s second Test, most notably some more creativity in attack and more accuracy in defence is required.
Wales prop Wyn Jones has been ruled out of the first Test against Argentina on Saturday and will miss the rest of the summer tour.
The 26-year-old suffered a calf injury in training, ending his hopes of winning a 10th cap against the Pumas in San Juan.
“Jones will return to the Scarlets for further diagnosis and prognosis,” said a Welsh Rugby Union statement announcing the news.
Fellow Scarlet Rob Evans will now win his 26th cap after initially being named among the replacements.
Ospreys prop Nicky Smith is promoted to the replacements’ bench.
Wales beat South Africa 22-20 in Washington DC last weekend ahead of their two-Test series against Argentina.
Mike McFarlane claims this could be his final season as head coach of Abu Dhabi Harlequins after signing a fresh one-year deal to remain in charge of the Zayed Sports City outfit for the 2018/19 campaign.
The Englishman has been here before apparently – revealing that he told himself two years ago that he was calling it quits. Then, he led Quins to an unprecedented sweep of all major trophies in 2016/17.
Even after that he considered once again calling it a day. After all, where else is there to go after you’ve won absolutely everything?
He was once again persuaded to stay on. And after retaining only their Asia Rugby Western Clubs Champions League title from a memorable 2016/17 campaign last term, as well as adding the inaugural UAE Premiership Cup, McFarlane revealed he gave the future serious thought following season’s end.
“The boys are incredibly persuasive,” he joked, after he and the club stated he will be at the helm for a fourth campaign next season.
So, will year number four actually be the final one?
He replied: “Who knows. Two years ago was the final year. Last year was. But there comes a time when I need to prioritise family and it’s a huge ask on top of a busy, challenging job. It’s an exciting position to be in and an ongoing learning journey with a great group of boys.”
So, essentially, it could be his last year. He’s said that before, but he will assess the situation again in 12 months’ time.
He said: “The contract will be for one year. I wasn’t going to continue after this season. Whatever happens, it has to be right for me and the club in order to keep the club moving forward.”
And right for the family of course, with McFarlane juggling his coaching responsibilities with a demanding job as a PE teacher at the British School Al Khubairat, as well as a wife and young daughter at home.
McFarlane took over at Quins from former Munster full-back Jeremy Manning in the summer of 2015. After the New Zealander had led Quins to the UAE Premiership title in 2014/15, McFarlane ushered in a three-year period of dominance in which standards at the club were meticulously raised, as well as trophies.
Ten in total. Out of 19 available over the last four years. That included 2016/17’s marvelous quintuple, as well as three-straight Dubai Sevens titles from 2015-17.
McFarlane’s decision to stick rather than twist has been welcomed by Quins chairman Andy Cole.
“I am delighted to announce that Mike McFarlane will continue as head coach of Abu Dhabi Harlequins for the coming season,” said Cole.
“Mike’s work ethic, organisational and leadership skills are at the highest level. Mike and his family go above and beyond the role of head coach and we are very lucky to have them as part of the club.”
Pre-season for Quins begins on June 24 and now that he’s committed his immediate future to the club, McFarlane will be doing everything he can to bring success back to the capital next year after Jebel Ali Dragons, Dubai Exiles and Bahrain pinched the four biggest accolades (West Asia Premiership, UAE Premiership, Dubai Sevens and West Asia Cup) away from Abu Dhabi. Especially if it proves to be his last in charge.
“With the foundations embedded, the professional setup and the close knit culture I have seen grow and develop over my tenure at Quins, I am pleased to be continuing as head coach for this coming season,” McFarlane added.
“As ever, I will demand the highest expectations of the players but in return know that it will be a fulfilling rugby experience being part of the club both for them as players and their families.
“I know the committee and the club are working tirelessly to ensure we are ready for another great season from logistics to acquiring sponsors.”