The seven milimetres that secured England victory over South Africa to give Eddie Jones breathing space

The difference between Eddie Jones facing a crisis or salvation on Saturday was decided by about seven centimetres, but importantly it leaves him facing a clear run towards the 2019 Rugby World Cup with his plans intact.

Had two key moments on Saturday been seven centimetres to the left, or seven centimetres higher, Jones would have been facing big questions over his future. Such are the slim margins that decide Test rugby, the England boss will be enjoying his post-match glass of red wine, having seen his understrength side run out 12-11 victors over a strong South Africa.

The first moment was not as controversial as the second, but it was certainly the more important. Handre Pollard wasn’t enjoying the best of day’s with the boot having already missed a conversion that, at Test level, any goalkicker should expect to get. But when he struck his 77th-minute penalty, the ball looked to be curling just enough to slide inside the right upright.

If it was seven centimetres to the left, Pollard would’ve won the game for the Springboks. As it was, the ball shaved the outside of the 70mm-thick post and deflected clear, keeping England’s one-point lead intact with fewer than 240 seconds left on the clock.


England vs South Africa player ratings





1/30 Alec Hepburn – 5 out of 10

2/30 Dylan Hartley – 7 out of 10

3/30 Kyle Sinckler – 6 out of 10

4/30 Maro Itoje – 6 out of 10

5/30 George Kruis – 7 out of 10

6/30 Brad Shields – 7 out of 10

7/30 Tom Curry – 6 out of 10.

8/30 Mark Wilson – 8 out of 10

9/30 Ben Youngs – 6 out of 10

10/30 Owen Farrell – 8 out of 10

11/30 Jonny May – 6 out of 10

12/30 Ben Te’o – 7 out of 10

13/30 Henry Slade – 6 out of 10

14/30 Jack Nowell – 6 out of 10

15/30 Elliot Daly – 5 out of 10

16/30 <b>South Africa:</b> Steven Kitschoff – 7 out of 10

17/30 Malcolm Marx – 4 out of 10

18/30 Frans Malherbe – 6 out of 10

19/30 Eben Etzebeth – 5 out of 10

20/30 Pieter-Steph du Toit – 6 out of 10

21/30 Siya Kolisi – 6 out of 10

22/30 Duane Vermeulen – 6 out of 10

23/30 Warren Whiteley – 6 out of 10

24/30 Ivan van Zyl – 6 out of 10

25/30 Handre Pollard – 7 out of 10

26/30 Aphiwe Dyantyi – 6 out of 10

27/30 Damian de Allende – 6 out of 10

28/30 Jesse Kriel – 6 out of 10

29/30 Sbu Nkosi – 7 out of 10

30/30 Damian Willemse – 6 out of 10

1/30 Alec Hepburn – 5 out of 10

2/30 Dylan Hartley – 7 out of 10

3/30 Kyle Sinckler – 6 out of 10

4/30 Maro Itoje – 6 out of 10

5/30 George Kruis – 7 out of 10

6/30 Brad Shields – 7 out of 10

7/30 Tom Curry – 6 out of 10.

8/30 Mark Wilson – 8 out of 10

9/30 Ben Youngs – 6 out of 10

10/30 Owen Farrell – 8 out of 10

11/30 Jonny May – 6 out of 10

12/30 Ben Te’o – 7 out of 10

13/30 Henry Slade – 6 out of 10

14/30 Jack Nowell – 6 out of 10

15/30 Elliot Daly – 5 out of 10

16/30 <b>South Africa:</b> Steven Kitschoff – 7 out of 10

17/30 Malcolm Marx – 4 out of 10

18/30 Frans Malherbe – 6 out of 10

19/30 Eben Etzebeth – 5 out of 10

20/30 Pieter-Steph du Toit – 6 out of 10

21/30 Siya Kolisi – 6 out of 10

22/30 Duane Vermeulen – 6 out of 10

23/30 Warren Whiteley – 6 out of 10

24/30 Ivan van Zyl – 6 out of 10

25/30 Handre Pollard – 7 out of 10

26/30 Aphiwe Dyantyi – 6 out of 10

27/30 Damian de Allende – 6 out of 10

28/30 Jesse Kriel – 6 out of 10

29/30 Sbu Nkosi – 7 out of 10

30/30 Damian Willemse – 6 out of 10

Then came the highly-controversial second moment. Those 240 seconds had ticked down, and an additional 120 seconds were on the clock when Springbok replacement Andre Esterhuizen drifted across field and rather unwittingly met the shoulder of Owen Farrell.

Initially it looked like a shoulder charge, and would hand Pollard one last shot at goal to win the match for the tourists. However, as the ball came free and was booted into touch, referee Angus Gardner appeared ready to blow the final whistle, only for “check, check” to ring out in his ear as TMO Olly Hodges called for a review of the tackle. On replay, it looked to vindicate the penalty decision as Farrell made contact with his right shoulder long before his arm attempted to wrap around Esterhuizen.

But upon review, both Gardner and Hodges felt the tackle was legal, and finally the whistle came to end the match. Had Farrell’s shoulder been seven centimetres higher, the contact would’ve been to the head and not only would it have been a certain penalty, but Farrell would also have been facing a potential ban.

Instead, England won, Jones beamed in delight on the sidelines and Farrell punched the air as his teammates swarmed around him.

Farrell could yet face further action but it’s unlikely given that the tackle needs to be deemed to warrant a red card, which is doesn’t appear to.

Such are the slim margins of rugby union.

Having entered the autumn under pressure to prove England’s dismal run of five losses in six Tests, this victory with a heavily depleted team ensures that the Quilter Internationals are likely to be regarded as a success by the RFU, and give Jones the time to build through to Japan 2019 when, he hopes, to have his big guns back to full fitness and available for selection.

The result lifted the cloud over Twickenham, and Jones’ reaction in his post-match press conference certainly reflected this. ““I don’t understand this guys. We’re a bloody good team. We lost a few games but we played tough today and we won,” bristled the Australian when asked if it was the most important win of his England tenure. “Why is it always the most important game? Because you want to sack me? You’re going to do it at some stage. You know that. You know that. If I stay long enough, you’re going to get me sacked. One day you’ll be happy. You’ll come in and say ‘Fantastic, we’ve got another bloke we can terrorise’.”

It may have been his way of the pressure lifting, but there’s no looking beyond the fact that this victory has bought Jones considerable breathing space.

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