DURBAN- South Africa handed new coach Heyneke Meyer a winning start with a 22-17 victory over England in the first test on Saturday.
The Springboks turned in a dominant second-half performance with flyhalf Morne Steyn and new captain Jean de Villiers crossing for tries after Steyn and opposite number Owen Farrell had traded penalties to make the score 6-6 after 40 minutes.
The hosts took control after the resumption and while winger Ben Foden scored a consolation try for England in the corner with time up on the clock, the result was never in doubt.
“We knew England were going to be very well prepared and they are a very physical side,” Meyer told a news conference.
“There were a few nerves at the beginning, with a new captain and a few new players, but I was very happy with the performance.”
Meyer had made no secret of his intention to implement a game plan built around powerful ball carriers and his team also made good use of the kick-and-chase tactic.
The first quarter was a physical struggle as both teams tried to impose themselves but England shaded the Springboks at the breakdown by thrusting more forwards into the rucks.
Farrell and Steyn swapped early penalties before England regained the lead in the 27th minute thanks to the flyhalf’s second successful kick at goal.
The advantage was short lived however as Steyn levelled moments later to send the teams into the break all square.
“I said to the forwards at halftime it wasn’t good enough,” said Meyer. “I wanted us to up the tempo and there were a few harsh words.
“A lot of players knew they had to step up in the second half and they did.”
There was a noticeable lift in tempo at the start of the second spell and the home side were rewarded eight minutes in when Steyn went over in the corner after a surging run from prop Jannie du Plessis carried the ball to within five metres of England’s line.
The Springboks threatened to run away with the game when they extended the lead to 10 points after De Villiers charged over following a sweeping backline move greeted with roaring approval from most of the 43,000 Kings Park crowd.
Farrell’s trusty right boot calmed the situation for England and narrowed the gap to four points with less than a quarter of an hour to play.
Two more Steyn penalties put the result beyond doubt before Foden dived over to give Stuart Lancaster’s team a late boost.
“I was really pleased with our first half performance but we need to work on our third-quarter performance because the Boks dominated and scored two tries,” said Lancaster.
“I thought we came back well at the end. There are lots of things to work on but lots of positives as well and we go to the second test in good heart.”
The victory was South Africa’s eighth in a row against England and gave them a 1-0 lead in the three-match series.
The second test is in Johannesburg next Saturday with the final match in Port Elizabeth on June 23.