England fightback falls short against South Africa
South Africa clinched the series over a gutsy England after a first-half blitz and JP Pietersen's late game-clinching try gave the Springboks a 36-27 win in the second test at Ellis Park on Saturday.
Flanker Willem Alberts, hooker Bismarck du Plessis and scrumhalf Francois Hougaard scored tries for South Africa inside the first 20 minutes to set up an unassailable 2-0 lead in the three-match series after England's promising second-half fightback fell just short in Johannesburg.
South Africa eventually had to cling on despite their initial dominance over Stuart Lancaster's England, who replied to the onslaught with tries for recalled flyhalf Toby Flood in the 24th and two from scrumhalf Ben Youngs in a second-half surge that brought the battling tourists to within four points after trailing 22-3 early on.
Wing Pietersen grabbed South Africa's crucial fourth try in the 73rd to seal the series after South Africa won a similarly bruising and tight first test in Durban last weekend.
"Frustration would be the overriding emotion really," Lancaster said of how his players are feeling. "A mixture of pride in coming back, but frustration because winning rugby games at this level is what it's about and it wasn't quite enough.
"Our momentum and belief grew and we played some good stuff in the second half, there's no doubt about it. But we gave ourselves too much to do."
England's prospects looked bleak when Hougaard wriggled over from the back of a ruck to help the Boks to a 19-point advantage inside 20 minutes in front of 60,000 fans.
But the tourists' standout player, Youngs, took a quick tap to set up Flood's try and then wrestled his way over in the 52nd and 62nd minutes to bring England roaring back.
Flood cut South Africa's lead to 31-27 and set up a nervous finish for the home team after England had rocked the Boks' scrum backward to earn a penalty near halfway.
Pietersen settled the series when he was put away by captain Jean de Villiers on the right side late on, and the wing celebrated South Africa's huge relief with a swan dive in the corner.
"All credit to England, I thought they played brilliantly in the second half and we couldn't get going. But I'll take it," new Springboks coach Heyneke Meyer said. "You learn from this."
South Africa threatened straight from the kickoff, with the big Boks' ball carriers again looking to batter their way through England's backline as they did in Durban.
England's defence held, even after Bryan Habana's break down the left wing to within two meters. But from England's scrum five meters out Alberts picked up the loose ball as it squirted out on the blindside and went over untouched inside the first three minutes.
Du Plessis powered over between the posts in the seventh minute for South Africa's second after another series of surging runs from the forwards.
England fullback Ben Foden broke South Africa's backline straight after, forcing a last-ditch tackle from opposite number Patrick Lambie and England earned a penalty in front and Flood put the tourists on the board with a 10th-minute shot.
Flyhalf Steyn kicked a 16th-minute penalty for South Africa for a 15-3 lead, with the home team going at a point a minute in its early blitz.
Scrumhalf Hougaard nipped in for South Africa's third try in the 19th after South Africa's big men again drove to within a metre of England's line. Steyn's second conversion made it 22-3 in a rampant opening quarter from the home team.
England were forced to run penalties as early as the opening 25 minutes to find a way back and Youngs' quick thinking released wing Chris Ashton and Flood was on his shoulder to catch South Africa out with a lightning counterattack for 22-10.
Steyn then launched a drop from the 10-meter line to make it 25-10 at halftime, with the Boks in complete control.
"There was definitely a period in the first half where we were hanging on by our fingernails," Lancaster said. "But we said (at halftime) we had to retain our self-belief."
No. 10 Steyn extended the lead to 28-10 early in the second, but England resisted another series of forward drives and scored the first try of the second when Youngs broke off the back of a mistimed Springboks lineout and forced the ball onto the line. Flood converted for 28-17 with half an hour to go.
Steyn was again on target in the 59th as South Africa edged away at 31-17, but a stubborn England kept coming back in a spirited second-half performance.
Youngs scored his second after a maul from England's resurgent forwards to within five meters of the line and Flood's impressive kicking display continued with a conversion from near the right touchline to suddenly put England within a converted try at 31-24.
England's forwards pushed the Boks back with a powerful scrum to earn a penalty and Flood was successful again from near halfway to close it to four points with 15 minutes to go. South Africa were rocking having dominated the first 40.
Steyn missed a late penalty but it didn't prove crucial as Pietersen raced in at the corner and scored, but came dangerously close to losing possession with his Chris Ashton-like diving celebration.
"I spoke to him (Pietersen) after that jump when they almost tackled the ball out of his hands. He said he would never do that again," South Africa skipper De Villiers said, smiling.