London – South Africa completed an unbeaten tour of Europe with a 16-15 victory over England at Twickenham on Saturday that did more damage to the hosts' hopes of a top four seeding at next month's World Cup draw.
Springbok flanker Willem Alberts's try, the only one of the match, early in the second half proved the decisive score in a rainswept match.
However, with the hosts trailing 16-12 and only two minutes left, England captain Chris Robshaw, criticised for running kickable penalties during last week's defeat by Australia, told replacement fly-half Owen Farrell to go for goal rather than opt for an attacking line-out that could have led to a try.
South Africa's line-out superiority provided Robshaw with justification for his decision.
But with Farrell, who landed the kick to leave his side a point behind, appearing to disagree with Robshaw's call, England wasted valuable time.
And from the re-start South Africa, second in the world standings to England's fifth, did enough to extend their unbeaten streak against England to 11 Tests.
“From that last penalty, I thought we would have a chance to get down the other end and put over a drop-goal,” Robshaw told Sky Sports.
“You have to take every game as it comes and they were giving away plenty of penalties and we thought we might get another chance,” the flanker added.
England coach Stuart Lancaster defended his captain by saying:
“You can understand why anyone makes any decision but games are not won or lost on any one decision, we lost control in the middle third of the game.”
South Africa captain Jean de Villiers sympathised with Robshaw.
“Had they caught that ball from the kick-off and held on to it, they could have come into our area and maybe get a penalty again and suddenly you win the game,” de Villiers said.
Asked if England had taken too long over their final penalty, De Villiers added: “That's a fair point. As a captain you make a decision and you want the backing of your players.
“I can't comment on their (England's) calling structures but, unfortunately for them and fortunately for us, it worked out for us.”
England, who drew 14-14 when they last played South Africa, in Port Elizabeth in June, made six changes from the side beaten 20-14 by Australia.
Mike Brown replaced left wing Charlie Sharples and Ben Youngs started at scrum-half in place of Danny Care.
Lock Joe Launchbury was given a first Test start as Wasps team-mate Tom Palmer made way and a rejigged back row saw the return of No 8 Ben Morgan and flanker Tom Wood while fit-again Alex Corbisiero was in at loose-head prop.
South Africa, by contrast, were unchanged from the team that beat Scotland 21-10 last week, with the Springboks having started their tour with a 16-12 win over Ireland.
An attritional first half finished with South Africa 9-6 ahead after Springbok fly-half Pat Lambie kicked three penalties from as many attempts while his England counterpart, Toby Flood, landed two from four.
England's changed pack was more competitive in the scrum and loose than against the Wallabies, although the Springboks had the edge in the line-out.
It was no surprise, given the first half, that South Africa kicked a close-range penalty to touch early in the second period and their try came from the ensuing line-out.
After a catch and drive, South Africa lost the ball but Ben Youngs's attempted fly-hack clear rebounded off Springbok wing JP Pietersen.
Wood knocked-on the loose ball and Alberts plunged over the line for a try confirmed by the television match official.
Lambie converted and South Africa were two scores ahead at 16-6.
England threatened when centre Manu Tuilagi counter-attacked from inside his own half and found Chris Ashton in support.
But Ashton's pass to fellow wing Brown was a poor one, with several later knock-ons hampering England's cause.
Farrell, on for the injured Flood, cut the deficit with a 61st minute penalty before the dramatic finale left England thinking of what might have been. – Sapa-AFP