England Saxons hold off South Africa ‘A’

Date published: June 10 2016

England Saxons outscored South Africa 'A' four tries to three to hang on for a 32-24 win in Bloemfontein on Friday.

The Saxons looked primed to give South Africa 'A' a thrashing based off their clinical first half, leading 22-3 at the break.

Nick Tompkins, Mike Haley, Matt Kvesic and Alec Hepburn were all excellent for the visitors as they punished the South Africans on turnover ball. Their handling and offloading also deserves plenty of credit once they settled into the game.

By contrast South Africa 'A' felt completely disjointed. Time and again the carelessly tried to attack from the wrong areas of the pitch and when the ball consequently went loose, they were punished.

A better second half from the hosts turned a one-sided affair into an actual contest, tries from Francois Brummer, Piet Van Zyl and Sikhumbuzo Notshe trimming England's lead to just a point with the clock running out.

Ollie Devoto's try though sealed the win for England in the final few minutes. The two sides will meet again in George next Friday.

Several scrums within the opening ten minutes highlighted the number of handling errors coughed up by both sides as they tried to build some familiarity between combinations.

England's forwards wasted no time in getting acquainted with Garth April, the rising star with the Sharks taking some heavy tackles early on. However he stepped up to land a long-range penalty attempt off the kicking tee to put the hosts ahead 3-0.

Half breaks for Nic Groom and Nizaam Carr for South Africa 'A' went to waste but they remained well in control of possession and territory as England's penalty and tackle counts continued to rise.

The first try though went to the Saxons. Tompkins and Danny Cipriani tore up the the ground after an interception from the outside centre, made by Semesa Rokoduguni's pressure in defence, and recycling from the ruck Dan Robson's flat pass to Alex Lewington gave England the space for prop Hepburn to finish. Cipriani converted to make it 7-3.

Turning down a kickable penalty after the Saxons went offside, Scarra Ntubeni then overthrew at the lineout to throw away another big chance.

England were less frivolous, Francois Venter tackling a man without the ball for Cipriani to knock over a penalty and make the score 10-3.

Robson came so close to following those points up with a wonder try, created by Cipriani's flat pass to Rokoduguni to make the break, but in the process of chasing his own kick ahead he appeared to pull up.

There was no catching Rokoduguni a few minutes later though, released down the outside after England attacked on turnover ball, won by Kvesic, before his sublime chip and chase left Leolin Zas trailing behind.

Just as South Africa 'A' thought they were putting something together through Travis Ismaiel they were ripped open again, Robson showing remarkable patience and footwork to dance rings around Venter for England's third try. Cipriani couldn't convert, but England held a commanding lead at 22-3.

Robson, already struggling, then limped off to be replaced by Micky Young, but England barely seemed to lose a step. With their back row dominating the breakdown and South Africa 'A' showing little in attack, the visitors comfortably led at half-time.

Seeking a spark Johan Ackermann hauled off April and the entire SA 'A' front row, minutes before the hosts grabbed their first try after returning to the corner before Brummer crashed over, which he converted to make it 10-22.

Cipriani responded with a second penalty to stretch the gap on the scoreboard to 15 points.

Twice the hosts turned down kickable penalties and twice they came up with nothing, allowing England's tiring pack to move away from their own 22 in the process.

South Africa 'A', steadily improving in the second half, were soon over again through replacement scrum-half Van Zyl as he sniped around the edge of the ruck, Brummer's extra two points making it then 17-25.

However getting on top of replacement loosehead Ross Harrison the South African scrum began to play more of a role.

The hosts also had far more steam, finishing off a brilliant counter-attack from well within their own 22 through the excellent Notshe, who started it all with a chip and chase deep in his half and had the pace to finish it off after the final pass from Carr.

Brummer's conversion meant England's 19-point advantage from half-time had been trimmed to just one, and based off the momentum of the second half the game looked like the South Africans' for the taking.

England though came through, Cipriani's low kick and the flick on from Christian Wade setting up an offload off the ground for Devoto to score their fourth try, and the winner, which Cipriani converted to make it 32-24.

South Africa 'A' did their best to fashion a consolation try, but England once more turned it over to secure a deserved win.

The scorers:

For South Africa ‘A’:
Tries: Brummer, Van Zyl, Notshe
Cons: Brummer 3
Pen: April

For England Saxons:
Tries: Hepburn, Rokoduguni, Robson, Devoto
Cons: Cipriani 3
Pens: Cipriani 2

South Africa ‘A’: 15 Leolin Zas, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Francois Venter, 12 Howard Mnisi, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Garth April, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Oupa Mohoje (c), 6 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 JD Schickerling, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Scarra Ntubeni, 1 Thomas du Toit
Replacements: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Lizo Gqoboka, 18 Coenie Oosthuizen, 19 RG Snyman, 20 Jean-Luc du Preez, 21 Piet van Zyl, 22 Francois Brummer, 23 Lukhanyo Am

England Saxons: 15 Mike Haley, 14 Semesa Rokoduguni, 13 Nick Tompkins, 12 Ollie Devoto, 11 Alex Lewington, 10 Danny Cipriani, 9 Dan Robson, 8 Sam Jones, 7 Matt Kvesic, 6 Don Armand, 5 Charlie Ewels, 4 Dave Attwood (c), 3 Kieran Brookes, 2 Tommy Taylor, 1 Alec Hepburn
Replacements: 16 George McGuigan, 17 Ross Harrison, 18 Jake Cooper-Woolley, 19 Mitch Lees, 20 Dave Ewers, 21 Micky Young, 22 Sam James, 23 Christian Wade

Referee: Rasta Rasivhenge (South Africa)
Assistant Referees: Lourens van der Merwe (South Africa), Jaco Kotze (South Africa)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)