South Africa show England how far they still have to go to become genuine contenders for honours with a hard-fought, 21-11 victory at Twickenham.
Springboks steady the ship
South Africa showed England how far they still have to go to become genuine contenders for honours with a hard-fought, 21-11 victory at Twickenham.
The Springboks showed their trademark pragmatism to batter England physically and dominate possession, forcing a series of simple errors that checked the momentum built by the home side's wins over Australia and Samoa.
Morne Steyn kicked two penalties and hit the post with two more before replacement Willem Alberts and Lwazi Mvovo touched down in the final quarter.
"I think the guys showed what we can do and that's what South African rugby is all about," Victor Matfield, the South Africa captain, said. "Our ball carriers, our scrum, everything were working really well."
Ben Foden got a late breakaway try for England to make the score more respectable, although Mike Tindall hacked an attempted quick conversion wide of the posts.
A series of big hits left Chris Ashton, Toby Flood, Tom Croft, Dan Cole and Mark Cueto all needing attention. Flood kicked two penalties, but he was shaken and indecisive by the time he limped off in the 23rd minute following a blow to the head.
"The realities of Test match rugby are that if you don't do the fundamentals of the game for 80 minutes, you're not going to win," said Martin Johnson, the England manager.
"It's disappointing because we felt if we got the ball into attack we could do something. It's just frustrating and annoying.
"It was a real tough end to the series. We lost a couple of players, which was a disruption, but we've got to handle it as well."
South Africa took two thirds of first-half possession and succeeded where Australia and even New Zealand failed this month by forcing England backward in the tackle.
England remained dangerous when keeping the ball moving and went in at half time level at 6-6, but South Africa shook off last week's surprise loss to Scotland to dominate the contact areas and force the late tries.
"We were bitterly disappointed about the way we played last week," Matfield said. "We knew we were putting them under pressure. We were just happy the guys kept playing the way we know they can. In 2006, we also had a bad year and we turned things around, so hopefully this is an omen for us."
In last night's late game, New Zealand defeated Wales 37-25 to complete their third grand slam of the home nations in five years.
After losing to Australia in Hong Kong in the opening match of their November tour, the All Blacks have beaten England, Scotland, Ireland and now the Welsh on successive weekends. Fly-half Daniel Carter overtook Jonny Wilkinson's world points scoring record of 1,178 points with his second kick of the match.
Mirco Bergamasco's flawless kicking helped Italy battle back from a woeful first half to beat Fiji 24-16 in their final November Test.
Fiji, 10th in the world rankings and looking to stay ahead of 12th-ranked Italy going into next year's World Cup in New Zealand, seemed to have the game in the bag but the hosts had other ideas.
"It's wonderful, the effort and enormous toil gave us this victory," Bergamasco said. "We really are so happy even if maybe we didn't play the best international rugby."
Romania scored five tries as they beat Uruguay 39-12 to clinch the 20th and last berth at the 2011 World Cup
The Uruguayans had held Romania, who have qualified for all seven World Cups, 21-21 in the first leg of the repechage in Montevideo two weeks ago.
Romania go into Group B at the World Cup with 2003 champions England, Argentina, Scotland and Georgia.