England 27-26 South Africa: Marcus Smith kicks England to final-minute victory over Springboks at Twickenham
England end their 2021 autumn campaign unbeaten, after securing late victory over Springboks; Manu Tuilagi, Freddie Steward and Raffi Quirke scored twice, while Marcus Smith added 12 points with the boot; South Africa came from 17-6 behind to lead 26-24 before defeat
By Michael Cantillon at Twickenham
Last Updated: 20/11/21 8:25pm
A Marcus Smith penalty with just seconds remaining ensured a spirited England battled to a thrilling 27-26 victory over South Africa, ending their autumn on a high at an enthused Twickenham.
England, already without skipper Owen Farrell, hookers Luke Cowan-Dickie and Jamie George, and loosehead Ellis Genge, lost Manu Tuilagi to injury early on, but responded with a wholehearted display in a thoroughly entertaining Test.
Tuilagi, outstanding full-back Freddie Steward and replacement scrum-half Raffi Quirke scored tries for England, while Smith added three conversions and two penalties - the last of which clinched the Test.
For the Springboks, Handre Pollard kicked five penalties - but missed a further two - wing Makazole Mapimpi scored their only try, while replacements Elton Jantjies and Frans Steyn each added further penalties as they came from 17-6 down to lead 26-24 before succumbing to late defeat.
England, who struggled in terms of discipline, conceding 18 penalties in the game and a yellow card to prop Will Stuart, did also find themselves on the right side of luck on the day, as a profligate Springboks passed up chances and took time to gain their customary set-piece ascendency.
After an early series of kicking by both sides, England were nearly in first down the left and forced Bok full-back Willie le Roux to carry back over his own try-line after two probing and well-executed kicks, first by Smith cross-field and then a Ben Youngs grubber with the outside of his right.
Against the odds, England forced a penalty at the resultant scrum as twice South Africa engaged early, before Eddie Jones' charges took the decision to kick to the corner.
A promising maul set-up made good ground, and though the Boks did enough to bring it down, England stressed the South African defence before springing wide, as a fantastic long Henry Slade pass found Tuilagi, who put his head down, charged for the line and leapt over past the despairing dive of Pollard.
Unfortunately for the pumped-up hosts, scoring was Tuilagi's last action of the contest as he limped off with a hamstring injury, and moments later Jonny May put England under pressure in their own 22 when he knocked on while attempting to tap a mark quickly.
Implausibly, England won their second scrum penalty of the day - this time against the head - to relieve the pressure, but mistakes invited the Boks back into the 22 when Eben Etzebeth stole a lineout, before Youngs kicked a box-kick out on the full.
Nice build-up play followed from South Africa towards the edge, where Le Roux put in a chip over the England defence which bounced in-field, and when May spilled the ball for a second time, Lukhanyo Am jackalled to win a breakdown penalty and present Pollard a simple effort for 7-3.
England's response was to carve out their second try of the opening quarter, as a smart move off a midfield scrum near the touchline - Slade again distributing superbly - released Max Malins round the Boks' blitz defence, with the jinking replacement stopped only by a superb Mapimpi tackle.
From there, the hosts were patient and Steward showed power to force his way over past Cobus Reinach, Mapimpi and Siya Kolisi.
Despite the concession of two early tries, South Africa were seemingly intent on kicking for the posts at every opportunity as their rolling maul gradually grew into the contest. Indeed, Pollard kicked three penalties in eight minutes - either side of a Smith effort following a restart when Tom Curry jackalled - to bring the score to 17-12 by the half hour.
Still England continued to look bright in attack, as only a terrific tackle by Boks centre Damian de Allende denied Malins from sprinting in down the right.
A poor clearance by scrum-half Reinach kept the pressure on the visitors, but that was arrested when prop Ox Nche produced a mammoth tackle on opposite number Bevan Rodd, forcing Slade to seal off at the ruck.
England had two further spells in the South Africa 22 after the Boks were penalised for sealing off themselves, but a penalty against Sinckler - once again for going off feet and sealing off - and then a poorly struck Smith attempted drop-goal, which fell wide, left things 17-12 at the break.
If England were playing above themselves considering their absentees, the Boks were playing below their usual set-piece mark - they garnered no scrum penalties in the first half, and suffered two lineout losses, with a third lineout malfunction occurring early in second half.
On 43 minutes, the Boks scrum finally arrived as they tore through England against the head and won a penalty. Pollard missed the effort to the right of the posts with a rash strike, however.
A sumptuous De Allende offload and good pace by Kolisi almost resulted in wing Jesse Kriel dashing away soon after, but between them, Kolisi and Kriel could not link up and the chance went begging.
The Boks refused to go away, and when Sinckler spilled a ball but recovered it, Vincent Koch latched on to win a breakdown decision. Once again Pollard missed from the tee, putting his kick wide to the left of the posts this time.
The Boks continued to reap penalties via the scrum, but the sensational Steward - who had been bright in the Test since 90 seconds in - calmly diffused near enough every Springbok high kick.
Maro Itoje was on hand to scrag Reinach back as he almost scythed through, before Pollard did split the uprights from close range when Sam Underhill was unfortunate at the breakdown - the flanker stealing the ball cleanly but penalised for hands in the ruck as it had just been formed before by Jamie Blamire.
By the hour mark, the Springboks somehow failed to score when a try seemed inevitable after a hectic passage of attacking.
First, a desperate Malins tackle stopped Reinach from a certain score in the corner. A maul penalty then saw the Boks kick to touch for a five-metre lineout, but twice they were just short of the line following another promising maul, before Kwagga Smith was held up by Malins.
From the resulting goal-line dropout, Boks replacement Steyn attempted a drop-goal for the lead from distance, but it just veered wide.
An Etzebeth charge down on Quirke and strong breakdown work from Malcom Marx and Am saw the Boks back into the England 22 before long, and when the hosts were caught offside, Jantjies tapped over a penalty to put South Africa into the slenderest of leads.
England responded straight away - less than two minutes later in fact - as an intelligent and deceptive Slade pass - this time a no-look short ball - released Joe Marchant into space, with Quirke showing great pace in support to receive the ball and score.
Replacement prop Stuart was sin-binned in the 67th minute as England struggled to contain the Boks maul, and in a matter of moments Mapimpi touched down for a try.
The maul again did the damage, and once virtually on top of the England line, South Africa went wide for Mapimpi to run in untouched. Jantjies missed the tough conversion, however, leaving England in front by a point at 24-23.
With seven minutes remaining, South Africa took the lead for the first time in the Test as Mapimpi and Duane Vermeulen combined at the breakdown to force a penalty after Itoje had dived on a loose ball, and Steyn struck over.
The Boks should have been in again when Etzebeth charged through on a remarkable line, but the opportunity was wasted when both Koch and Franco Mostert flew in off-feet.
With five minutes remaining, Bok skipper Kolisi was sin-binned after a TMO review for taking Marchant out in the air, presenting England a last shot to press on.
What seemed a critical Etzebeth lineout steal followed, but England came again to force two penalties in the same sequence as scrum-half replacement Hershel Jantjies went off-feet at the breakdown and then Steyn charged in on a prone Smith - the second of which presented the young England playmaker a far easier attempt from in front, which he slotted for the lead.
There remained time for the restart but Steward, fittingly, rose to claim it before being taken out in the air by Etzebeth, and a full house at Twickenham could serenade victory.