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England kicks last-gasp penalty, beats Boks 27-26 in classic

November 20, 2021 GMT
England's Marcus Smith kicks the winning penalty during an international rugby union match between England and South Africa at Twickenham Stadium, London, Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
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England's Marcus Smith kicks the winning penalty during an international rugby union match between England and South Africa at Twickenham Stadium, London, Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
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England's Marcus Smith kicks the winning penalty during an international rugby union match between England and South Africa at Twickenham Stadium, London, Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

LONDON (AP) — Marcus Smith kicked a penalty with 20 seconds remaining to give England a 27-26 win over world champion South Africa in a Twickenham classic on Saturday that followed a very different script to the teams’ last meeting in the 2019 Rugby World Cup final.

Trailing 17-6 midway through the first half, the Springboks used relentless physicality, forward power and bench depth to recover and lead 26-24, before captain Siya Kolisi’s 76th-minute yellow card for a tackle in the air gave England renewed hope.

One last home attack saw Boks replacement Frans Steyn give away a reckless penalty in front of the posts and Smith, England’s flyhalf and new hope, made it five successful kicks from five to settle a breathless test match.

It gave the English a measure of revenge after losing the World Cup final 32-12 in Yokohama two years ago, when they were overwhelmed pretty much from kickoff by the trademark brutality of the Springboks.

That didn’t happen at Twickenham — where South Africa hasn’t won since 2014 — until the second half. Before that, England’s inexperienced pack, containing a prop winning his second cap and a third-choice hooker, held its own in the scrum, even winning two early penalties. The team’s backs were sharper, too, and scored tries through center Manu Tuilagi in the left corner and fullback Freddie Steward from close range on the other side.

Tuilagi was injured in the act of scoring his try — his right knee was heavily bandaged even before kickoff — and was forced off the field.

Handre Pollard’s penalties kept South Africa in touch, with the sides turning around with the score 17-12 at halftime. And the Boks were dominant after the break, a change of their entire front row in the 45th helping to turn the tide.

The English finished the game having conceded 18 penalties, double that of the Boks, with one of them allowing replacement Elton Jantjies to boot a penalty to put South Africa ahead for the first time in the 64th.

Within a minute, England was back in front and it was another try that owed to the team’s creativity in the backs as Henry Slade sent Joe Marchant through a gap and he passed inside for replacement scrumhalf Raffi Quirke to sprint over for his first international try.

It was soon advantage South Africa when replacement prop Will Stuart was yellow-carded for an accumulation of team offenses and the visitors capitalized, with Makazole Mapimpi romping over in the left corner for their only try and Steyn then kicking a penalty for 26-24.

There was still time, though, for another big turning point when Kolisi attempted to challenge for a high ball with Marchant. He was beaten to it and ended up pulling down England’s winger while in the air.

Kolisi protested but he had to go to the sin-bin. England launched an attack, got a penalty advantage, but still continued going forward and earned a penalty in a much better position after Steyn slid, knee-first, into the back of an England player on the ground.

Smith made no mistake again and England managed to claim the restart to see out a brilliant test, completing a sweep of autumn victories after previous wins over Tonga and Australia.

“We dug in, we fought,” said Steward, who had to field a stream of high kicks at fullback. “South Africa are so physical and you can’t shy away from that.

“It was a whole squad effort and it was unbelievable.”

The South Africans have been on the road pretty much since late August, starting with games in Australia to finish off the Rugby Championship, and they couldn’t quite complete a year when they backed up their third World Cup success by winning a series against the British and Irish Lions.

“Very disappointed with the loss,” Kolisi said. “It was a great game — both teams turned up — and it was a pity we couldn’t finish strong this tour.

“They defended well and we made a couple of mistakes. Getting so close to their line and not capitalizing made it tough for us.”

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