JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa began a new era for their rugby with a dramatic 42-39 victory over England in the first test at Ellis Park on Saturday, coming back after conceding three tries in a horrific opening 17-minute spell to go 1-0 ahead in the three-match series.
The Springboks, with their first-ever black captain in Siya Kolisi and a new coach in Rassie Erasmus, powered their way back with five tries of their own after falling 24-3 behind in the early exchanges of a high-scoring and action-packed encounter but had to hold on grimly at the end for their narrow victory.
Debutant winger S’busiso Nkosi and Aphiwe Dyantyi scored three tries between them but it was the return to the side of English-based scrumhalf Faf de Klerk and fullback Willie le Roux that propelled the home side to victory while condemning England to a fourth successive test defeat after they lost their Six Nations crown earlier this year.
England got off to a dream start as they eased through a leaky home defence and saw Mike Brown, Elliott Daly and George Farrell all score in a blistering start. Late tries from Maro Itoje and Jonny May allowed them to come close to snatching a win at the end.
Brown powered through two tackles for the opening score after just four minutes and then Daly and Farrell added two more tries as England leapt into a 21-point lead to stun the 55,000-strong crowd.
George Ford’s shuttle ball put Daly in untouched in the 13th minute and then a skip pass to Farrell allowed the England captain to ease his way through a porous backline four minutes later.
But England suddenly lost momentum as South Africa found their straps with De Klerk dictating the pace of play in a triumphant return to his former home ground.
Nkosi’s strong run at the England defence took the ball towards the line and De Klerk picked up the loose ball to stretch his arm over the line for a first reply in the 20th minute.
Nkosi then scored himself on the half-hour mark with a kick and chase as Daly missed the ball and the new Springbok wing touched down, with a large dollop of good fortune.
Four minutes afterwards, De Klerk kept front-foot ball going for the Boks and Nkosi went over on the other wing after a sharp inside pass from fellow debutant Dyantyi.
A rolling maul on the stroke of halftime provided the hosts with their first chance to take the lead, as De Klerk cleverly switched direction to space outside to see Le Roux to power over at speed.
A 29-27 lead at half-time was extended when Dyantyi went over, albeit almost fumbling the ball, in the 64th minute.
England finished the stronger of the sides as Itoje stretched over the ruck to reduce South Africa’s lead to 39-32 and then May ran though the home defence to leave the Boks three points ahead with one minute left.
But South Africa held on for a narrow win as they go into the next test in Bloemfontein next Saturday and the final game of the series at Newlands in Cape Town on June 23.
Reporting by Mark Gleeson; Editing by Clare Fallon