It looked like a clear shoulder charge against the Springboks, but Australian referee Angus Gardner made a controversial call in favour of England in the final movement of the game that handed the hosts a hard-fought 12-11 victory at Twickenham on Saturday.
Bok centre André Esterhuizen charged forward near the English 10-metre line, and was knocked over by co-captain Owen Farrell.
Gardner referred the matter to the TMO, but after looking at the TV screen at the ground, he made his own decision and felt that Farrell had “enough” of an arm around Esterhuizen to render it a legitimate tackle and not a shoulder charge.
It was rough justice for the Boks, but considering their listless performance, they didn’t deserve to win.
Having dominated most of the match, especially in the first half, the South Africans were unable to turn their territory and possession into points.
Coach Rassie Erasmus opted for safety-first, conservative tactics which saw scrumhalf Ivan van Zyl slow the game down by taking forever to clear the ruck.
Van Zyl’s overall display hamstrung the Bok attack – although it must be said that he was clearly playing to instructions.
Some of his box-kicking, in terms of decision-making and execution, cost his team any possible rhythm or pressure that they had hoped to exert on the opposition.
In addition, hooker Malcolm Marx was again off-target in the red zone in the lineouts, with three crucial overthrows when the Bok maul was making serious headway.
But Erasmus stubbornly refused to replace him with Bongi Mbonambi, and it was a serious contributing factor to the defeat.
The one time that the Boks actually took the ball wide, Sbu Nkosi scored in the 33rd minute after a powerful carry by Damian de Allende got them on to the front foot, which was followed by lovely hands by Aphiwe Dyantyi and Warren Whiteley.
The No 8 made the final pass to Nkosi, who showed good composure to finish in the corner.
Handré Pollard was one of the few South Africans who had a reasonably satisfying game as he mixed up his play with up-and-unders and taking the ball to the line.
But the Bok flyhalf was bitterly disappointed when his late penalty effort from about 45 metres out clipped the right-hand upright.
There was a wonderful surge upfield in the closing stages, though. Elton Jantjies and Embrose Papier brought the necessary zip to the Bok attack, and they made it all the way into the 22 before Lood de Jager lost the ball in contact.
Farrell and Elliot Daly kept England in touch with the Boks despite the home side losing the forward battle and the backs not really having any effect.
And when the time came, Farrell slotted what turned out to be the match-winning penalty with seven minutes to go.
This was a game that the Boks lost, rather than one that England won, and they will kick themselves for not pulling through a victory at Twickenham.
England 12 – Penalties: Owen Farrell (3), Elliot Daly (1).
Springboks 11 – Try: Sbu Nkosi. Penalties: Handré Pollard (2).