England v South Africa: What the numbers say
ANALYSIS: Rookie flyhalf Marcus Smith landed a 79th-minute penalty to secure a thrilling 27-26 win for England over South Africa at Twickenham at the weekend.
The 22-year-old Smith, in just his fifth Test, helped England – who finished a lowly fifth in this year’s Six Nations – complete a clean sweep in their year-end campaign.
Apart from avenging their loss to the Springboks in the 2019 World Cup Final. England also beat Tonga and Australia.
England fashioned fine tries for Manu Tuilagi, Freddie Steward and Raffi Quirke to just one from South Africa’s Makazole Mapimpi in what was the teams’ first meeting since the Springboks were crowned world champions with a 32-12 win in Japan.
Looking past the post-match réclame for the English heroes and the raspberry for the Springboks, there are some interesting numbers that paint a picture of how Eddie Jones and his underdogs toppled the world’s top-ranked team. (See the full post-match stats below!)
We can start with the fact that England conceded 18 penalties to eight.
South Africa dominated possession (55 percent to 45 percent) and shaded the territory (52 percent to 48 percent).
The two teams kicked virtually the same number of times out of hand (England’s 29 to South Africa’s 27), the Springboks making 70 carries for 396 metres to England’s 67 for 383.
All the other stats are pretty much balanced out, except for rucks and mauls – which the Boks won by 67 to 59.
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It is on defence where England got the better of their opponents – making 90 tackles, with an 85 percent success rate.
South Africa made 79 tackles, with an 84 percent success rate.
It may sound even, but England scored three tries to one – a clear indication of just how clinical they were.
The ease with which replacement Raffi Quirke scored in the 65th minute, showed that South Africa’s famed defence still has its flaws.
Looking at the players also give us a hint as to how England managed to upstage their more fancied opponents.
Maro Itoje, Freddie Steward (both nine) and Jonny May (eight) made the most carries for England, but Max Malins got the most metres (67 from four carries).
Damian de Allende, Eben Etzebeth (both seven) and Lodewyk de Jager (six made the most Springbok carries. De Allende got the best returns (76 metres), followed by Etzebeth (46).
The most productive defenders were Tom Curry, Alex Dombrandt (both 10), Courtney Lawes and Jonny Hill (both nine) for England.
Etzebeth (13), De Jager (11) and Lukhanyo Am (seven) were South Africa’s best defenders.
In the end, it was a one-point game and the statistics show it was indeed that close – with England winning the crucial moments – the 65th-minute try and the 79th-minute penalty.
South Africa, as usual, relied on their predictable ‘grinder’ tactics – slowly beating the opposition in submission.
Only, this time, they came up agonisingly short.