Sbu Nkosi announced his arrival as a Test star as the Springboks hit back from a 24-3 deficit to run out 42-39 winners in the first Test against England at Ellis Park on Saturday night.
After 19 minutes, it looked like the Springboks had been blown away by an Eddie Jones masterclass as England ran in three tries for a 24-3 lead.
But the raucous home crowd, stunned into silence by some sharp English backline moves and an efficient forward pack, roared into voice for the next 20 minutes as the Boks powered back to get back into the game and ultimately set up the victory.
After that thrilling opening quarter from the visitors, they seemed to run out of steam at altitude as the South Africans stormed back.
And it was that man Nkosi who sparked the first try with a powerful burst down the right, before energetic scrumhalf Faf de Klerk forced the ball down in the 20th minute.
It followed a superb start by the English, with wing Mike Brown finishing off a breakout from their own 22, before Elliot Daly and then Brown again dotted down – Daly also kicked a monster 60-metre penalty for the 24-3 lead.
The Springboks scored a hard-fought 42-39 win over England in the first of three test matches in the @CastleLagerSA incoming Series. well done to both teams for a great match. pic.twitter.com/mpg7uZAhkv
But once De Klerk scored, the Boks found their rhythm. Suddenly the passes that didn’t go to hand initially were caught, men were in space, tackles were made and the dynamic duo of Nkosi and Aphiwe Dyantyi were lethal out wide.
The big men also got stuck in, none more so than No 8 Duane Vermeulen, who was a constant threat at the breakdowns.
Nkosi was the recipient of an outstanding De Klerk pass and Damian de Allende’s quick hands, and the Sharks flyer put in a grubber that evaded an England defender to score his first Test try on the half-hour mark.
The Boks were right in it again at 24-15 down, and then excellent reading of the play by classy fullback Willie le Roux drew the defence before he found Dyantyi, who showed he’s got more than just electric pace as he flipped the ball inside for Nkosi to go over.
The momentum had changed as the Boks trailed by just two points at 24-22, and it was no surprise when Le Roux benefited from a solid five-metre lineout maul, which saw Handré Pollard swing the ball wide to the No 15, who hit the gap to dive over.
Farrell kicked a penalty just before halftime to reduce the deficit to 29-27, and after a breathtaking opening 40 minutes, both teams were never going to maintain that kind of intensity.
Pollard missed a penalty after the break, which nearly proved costly, although he slotted another one three minutes later.
The match was still in the balance at 32-27, but a raft of substitutes rejuvenated the Bok pack in particular, and captain Siya Kolisi carried the ball strongly up the middle before RG Snyman popped it to Dyantyi, who juggled it over the line for a debut five-pointer.
The game was far from over, though, as first lock Maro Itoje stretched over a ruck in the 70th minute, and then wing Jonny May displayed searing pace with two minutes to go to make it a nail-biter at 42-39.
But the Boks held on, and handed Rassie Erasmus his first win as coach.
Springboks 42 – Tries: Faf de Klerk, Sbu Nkosi (2), Willie le Roux, Aphiwe Dyantyi. Conversions: Handré Pollard (4). Penalties: Pollard (3).
England 39 – Tries: Mike Brown (2), Elliot Daly, Maro Itoje, Jonny May. Conversions: Owen Farrell (4). Penalties: Daly (1), Farrell (1).