An error-strewn and under-powered England were comfortably seen off by South Africa at Twickenham to end the hosts’ autumn in deflating style.
Springbok wing Kurt-Lee Arendse raced in for a long-range score that helped his side to a healthy lead after a cagey first half.
The visitors turned the screw with Eben Etzebeth ploughing over to make it 24-6 after 51 minutes.
Replacement prop Thomas du Toit’s red card for a high shot on Luke Cowan-Dickie briefly offered England hope.
But Henry Slade’s try was all they could muster against the 14 men as time ticked down and hope of another extraordinary comeback to match last week’s draw with the All Blacks ebbed away.
England end the autumn with only one win – a comfortable victory over Japan – to show from four matches.
After a disappointing Six Nations campaign and a narrow summer series win over Australia, there was no sign of England bridging the gap to the world’s best teams, never mind overtaking them.
Springboks prove a class above
South Africa, unable to field Leicester’s Jasper Wiese and Harlequins’ Andre Esterhuizen – among others – because of their club commitments and the scheduling of the game outside World Rugby’s window for Test rugby, were at an immediate disadvantage in terms of personnel.
Their line-up also lacked a specialist goal-kicker, but it was England who looked more jittery off the tee early on.
Owen Farrell missed two shots at goal, from well within the England captain’s range, to keep the score at 3-3 after the first quarter.
There were flashes of ambition in England’s play – Farrell’s tip-on pass almost freed Manu Tuilagi round a rush defence, and a neat pass inside almost put full-back Freddie Steward into a hole – but South Africa gradually wrestled their way into the ascendance.
Siya Kolisi was held up over the line after a smart trick-play at the front of the lineout before fly-half Damian Willemse potted a drop-goal to put the visitors 6-3 in front.
The try that had been coming arrived two minutes later. Willemse fielded an over-cooked kick and evaded Steward’s chase, before feeding Willie le Roux, who in turn shipped the ball on to Arendse.
The 26-year-old former Sevens specialist only made his Test debut in July, but has been one of the finds of the year.
He showed his finishing ability once again as he swerved outside Smith, leaving the England fly-half rooted to the Twickenham turf, before diving over for his seventh try in seven Tests.
England complained that Steward had been impeded by Arendse as he hunted Willemse, but Gardner waved away their complaints and the score stood.
Another De Klerk penalty just before half-time sent England down the tunnel with an 11-point deficit to make up.
Willemse’s smart drop-goal two minutes after the restart put the Springboks two converted scores clear at 17-3 and England well and truly in the mire.
Last weekend, England dug themselves out of deeper mess, reeling in the All Blacks from 25-6 adrift with 10 minutes left.
This time, there was no such escape. England partly sabotaged themselves. Second row Jonny Hill yanked De Klerk by the collar, causing a penalty deep in his own half to be reversed.
Tom Curry was then shown yellow for infringing at the ruck on the next play. But the Springboks also showed an iron grip that the All Blacks lacked.
Etzebeth burrowed over beneath the posts a couple of minutes after Curry’s exit to the sin-bin to heap the points and pressure on England.
England’s attempt to replicate South Africa’s bomb squad – Ellis Genge, Luke Cowan-Dickie and Will Stuart – arrived off the bench at half-time, but proved no match for the visitors’ version.
De Klerk landed a long-range kick after a scrum penalty to push the lead out to 27-6.
Replacement Du Toit’s red card for a reckless, nasty shoulder to Cowan-Dickie’s head offered England a glimmer with 20 minutes left and roused the crowd.
But England’s inaccuracy snuffed it out. Two lineouts within five metres of the South Africa line went astray. Malcolm Marx clamped over an unguarded breakdown deep in his own half and, Slade’s 72nd-minute score apart, a despairing England’s attempts to run from deep floundered.
Many of the crowd had already headed to the exits before the final whistle. Plenty of those that remained gave voice to their dissatisfaction on the final whistle.
Story Credit: rnz.co.nz