Freddie Steward hails England’s fighting spirit after new-look side ‘put down a marker’ against South Africa

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Freddie Steward and Marcus Smith celebrate after England’s remarkable win over South Africa  (Getty Images)
Freddie Steward and Marcus Smith celebrate after England’s remarkable win over South Africa (Getty Images)

Freddie Steward hailed England’s fighting spirit as Eddie Jones’ side snatched victory in the dying embers of an engrossing encounter with South Africa at Twickenham.

Marcus Smith’s penalty in the final minutes secured England a 27-26 win which at times looked unlikely as South Africa began to turn the screw in the second half.

Despite a performance plagued by ill-discipline that saw the hosts concede 18 penalties, the Springboks were unable to put England away, with Raffi Quirke’s second-half try vital to break the visitors’ momentum.

Though South Africa nudged ahead through Frans Steyn’s penalty after Makazole Mapimpi had crossed, the home side remained within a score to allow Smith to strike a dagger at the death.

Steward believes it is a performance that shows the attitude of this new-look England team as they completed an unbeaten autumn.

“We knew South Africa would bring a physical battle, they always do and for us it was just about fighting for 80 minutes,” said Steward, who produced another fine performance to close an outstanding autumn for England’s new full-back.

“We just dug in for each other, we dug deep that is the thing about this team, we don’t go away, we stay in the fight and that was evident today.

“I have been back in the dressing room and the boys are out on the floor, but there is so much energy in there we are just trying to enjoy the moment. It is not often you get to beat the world champions at Twickenham.”

Having drawn a “line in the sand” after a disappointing Six Nations, Jones had wished to use this autumn to look at a “new” England team, introducing a fresh team of vice-captains and jettisoning a group of senior players.

With a side made further callow by the absence of the injured Owen Farrell and Jamie George, and Ellis Genge, who is in isolation after testing positive for Covid-19, England finished the game with young players in a number of key positions.

Quirke was introduced early for Ben Youngs at scrum-half, while Tom Curry took the captaincy for the final moments with Courtney Lawes withdrawn, pointing to the posts to allow Smith to nervelessly secure victory with his sweep over the top of the tee.

“In my mind, it was ‘Marcus, just please don’t miss’,” Steward said of how he felt as the fly-half lined up the kick.

“It is never in doubt with Marcus, he is an unbelievable professional and when we had that penalty you just knew what he was going to do. We knew it wasn’t the end of the game there, we had to get the ball back.

“The last time England played South Africa was in the World Cup final and that was always hanging [in the air] but for us it was focussing on the game [today].

“We wanted to put a marker down for this new England and give the world champions a good game. As this group of lads showed, we just wanted to put in a performance and we tried to focus on that rather than look into the past.”

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