England (6) 11 Try: Foden Pens: Flood 2 South Africa (6) 21 Tries: Alberts, Mvovo Con: Steyn Pens: M Steyn 3
Highlights - England 11-21 South Africa
England's new-found optimism was dented by a ruthless South African performance as their autumn international campaign ended in defeat at Twickenham.
The hosts were fortunate to be 6-6 at half-time, courtesy of Toby Flood, as South Africa dominated but managed only two Morne Steyn penalty kicks.
Steyn extended the lead before tries from Willem Alberts and Lwazi Mvovo put the world champions 21-6 in front.
In the final minutes, Ben Foden went over after making an interception.
The full-back's score was England's first try against South Africa in four matches but it proved scant consolation as the Springboks extended their winning run against England to seven successive matches - and it was achieved without stellar names such as Schalk Burger, John Smit, Fourie de Preez and winger Bryan Habana.
England's nascent confidence of a fortnight ago, when they resoundingly beat Australia 35-18, was shattered by a muscular and powerful South African side eager to consign their shock defeat by Scotland last week to history.
Johnson frustrated by sloppy England
The Springboks outplayed England in all facets, dominating the contact area, rarely giving England's backs the opportunity to attack, while their line-out functioned with ruthless efficiency.
The defeat will give England team manager Martin Johnson plenty to ponder as he prepares for the 2011 Six Nations and next year's Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.
Johnson bolstered his team with the return of captain Lewis Moody, centre Mike Tindall and flanker Tom Croft, all of whom missed the 26-13 win over Samoa last week, while opposite number Peter de Villiers recalled scrum-half Ruan Pienaar, while number eight Pierre Spies returned for Ryan Kankowski.
An enterprising 40-metre burst from Croft set up Flood to kick the first points of the match in the fifth minute but England's desire to dominate the scrum stretched beyond the enthusiastic when referee George Clancy penalised the front row for engaging too early as Andrew Sheridan missed his bind and collapsed the scrum, allowing Morne Steyn to level the scores five minutes later.
Flood restored England's three-point lead with a penalty in front of the posts when Deon Stegmann, playing at blind-side flanker for the injured Burger, was caught offside following a bull-dozing Sheridan run.
But England's momentum quickly evaporated as South Africa took control of the first half.
A defensive howler from Foden, opting to run the ball when a kick to touch would have alleviated pressure deep inside his own 22m line, allowed South Africa to camp deep inside England territory.
However, captain Victor Matfield spurned a glorious opportunity to put the tourists in front, ignoring an overlap in favour of glory as a fine challenge by Courtney Lawes, abetted by a last-ditch sweep from scrum-half Ben Youngs, pushed the ball from the second-row's grasp as he was about to apply downward pressure.
England had to reorganise their back row when Croft was forced to withdraw with an arm injury, earning Hendre Fourie his fourth international cap against the country of his birth.
But despite dominating territory and possession, the world champions spent the majority of the first half trailing England, with Morne and Francois Steyn both rattling the woodwork with penalty attempts.
De Villiers proud of SA 'belief'
Morne Steyn finally levelled the scores on 36 minutes following an England infringement at the ruck, but the fly-half spurned the opportunity to take a three-point lead at the interval when he uncharacteristically dragged a 25m drop-kick attempt wide of the posts.
However, the Springboks maintained their attacking momentum two minutes into the second half as Morne Steyn put the tourists in front for the first time in the match when Tindall was penalised at the breakdown.
England's response was swift, sweeping downfield with a smart move but they could not break down a belligerent South African defence.
And De Villiers' team turned up the intensity as the clocked ticked towards the hour mark as a deft pass from Spies set up replacement Alberts to slide over in the corner in the 58th minute.
The Springboks stepped up their physical intensity as England began to wilt, allowing winger Mvovo to burst through a weak tackle from Chris Ashton and touch down for his first Test try, converted by Morne Steyn.
England snatched a late try when Foden intercepted replacement CJ van der Linde's mislaid pass in the 77th minute, but any hopes of a comeback been extinguished long before then.
England: Foden, Ashton, Tindall, Hape, Cueto, Flood, Youngs, Sheridan, Hartley, Cole, Lawes, Palmer, Croft, Moody, Easter. Replacements: Banahan for Ashton (72), Hodgson for Flood (34), Care for Youngs (62), Thompson for Hartley (73), Wilson for Cole (68), Shaw for Lawes (68), Fourie for Croft (22).
South Africa: Kirchner, Aplon, F. Steyn, de Villiers, Mvovo, M. Steyn, Pienaar, Mtawarira, B. du Plessis, J. du Plessis, Botha, Matfield, Stegmann, Smith, Spies. Replacements: Jacobs for Kirchner (47), Lambie for Aplon (80), Hougaard for de Villiers (79), Strauss for B. du Plessis (79), van der Linde for J. du Plessis (53), van der Merwe for Botha (67), Alberts for Stegmann (48).
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