Jan Serfontein scores the Boks’ opening try.
The Springboks bounced back from their loss to Ireland with a hard-fought 31-28 win over England at Twickenham on Saturday.
England, 20-6 down early in the second half, capitalised on the sin-binning of Victor Matfield to score 14 points while the veteran lock was off the field as forwards David Wilson and Ben Morgan rumbled over for converted tries to tie the match at 20-20.
But South Africa, still a man down, regained their composure to score a try through man-of-the-match Schalk Burger, while impressive fly-half Pat Lambie kicked 16 points in total.
It was England’s second agonising three-point loss in as many weeks following their 24-21 defeat by world champions New Zealand but they could have few complaints.
Fresh from their shock tour-opening 29-15 defeat by Ireland in Dublin, the Springboks made it 12 games unbeaten against England as more doubts were raised about the ability of the 2015 World Cup hosts to challenge for the Webb Ellis Trophy.
Defeat was England’s fifth in a row — albeit four were against the All Blacks — and their worst run of results since they suffered seven successive losses back in 2006.
It also meant that in 13 matches under coach Stuart Lancaster against the southern hemisphere giants of South Africa, New Zealand and Australia, England had won just two.
Once again, England’s scrum and line-out held up well but they once more suffered from poor decision-making, loose kicking ane needless knock-ons.
Lancaster largely kept faith with the side that lost to New Zealand as Anthony Watson made his first Test start in place of injured Bath colleague Semesa Rokoduguni on the right wing.
South Africa responded to their Dublin debacle by making five changes.
Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer, significantly, dropped both half-backs Francois Hougaard and fly-half Handre Pollard, their places taken by Cobus Reinach and Lambie respectively.
A scrappy opening in wet conditions saw the Springboks take the lead in the 10th minute.
England fly-half Owen Farrell, running from close to his own line, gave a poor pass to Watson, who was engulfed by a horde of green shirts.
South Africa worked the ball wide to wing Bryan Habana but knocked on.
However, England captain Chris Robshaw had infringed and Lambie kicked the routine penalty.
South Africa made it 10-0 when England scrum-half Danny Care, winning his 50th cap, took too long at the base of a ruck and saw his pass intercepted by Jan Serfontein, the centre running in unopposed from 60 metres for a try under the posts which Lambie converted.
England spent plenty of time in the Springbok half but failed to make it count in the 26th minute when lock Dave Attwood, having broken clear, delayed what should have been a try-scoring pass to Watson, allowing the Springbok defence to recover.
England eventually won a penalty, which Farrell kicked and he landed another before the break, with Lambie kicking one and missing one to leave the Springboks 13-6 up at the break.
– England caught cold –
South Africa caught England cold barely 38 seconds into the second half when Lambie’s well-judged kick ahead was superbly caught by fullback Willie Le Roux, running at pace, and he fed Reinach,the scrum-half running in under the posts from 20 metres for his first Test try.
Then came Matfield’s sin-binning and England made their man advantage count with two huge driving mauls that led to tries for prop Wilson and replacement Morgan.
But South Africa hit back through Burger, the flanker going in on the blindside following a close range line-out off a penalty.
And just after the hour mark, it was England’s turn to be a man down when hooker Dylan Hartley was sin-binned for stamping.
Lambie’s third penalty made it 28-20 to the Springboks before England replacement fly-half George Ford’s penalty, virtually his first touch, cut the deficit to five points.
But Lambie put South Africa eight points in front with just four minutes left when his kick to touch set up a line-out from which he landed a close-range drop-goal.
England created an overlap for a try by South Africa-born centre Brad Barritt but Ford missed the conversion and it was South Africa who were denied a try with the last play of the game by the replay official.
Tries: Wilson, Morgan, Barritt
Cons: Farrell 2
Pens: Farrell 2, Ford
For South Africa:
Tries: Serfontein, Reinach, Burger
Cons: Lambie 2
Pens: Lambie 3