Chiefs trio help to down Springboks

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Exeter Chiefs star Henry Slade goes on the attack for England during their Autumn Nations Series encounter with South Africa at Twickenham. Picture: Getty Images

By Mark Stevens

Head coach Eddie Jones believes his new-look England side showed ‘real character’ to topple world champions South Africa 27-26 in a thrilling clash at Twickenham.

England - who included the Exeter Chiefs trio of Jonny Hill, Henry Slade and Sam Simmonds in their match-day squad - ensured they finished the Autumn Nations Series with a 100% record after previously defeating Tonga and Australia in successive weeks.

Jones toasted a new dawn as Manu Tuilagi, Freddie Steward and Raffi Quirke claimed stunning tries before Marcus Smith nailed a last-ditch winning penalty.

Handre Pollard slotted five penalties but missed two crucial shots at goal for the Boks, who mustered just one try from Makazole Mapimpi and further goals from Elton Jantjies and Frans Steyn.

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Exeter's Henry Slade, Sam Simmonds and Jonny Hill line-up ahead of their clash with the Springboks at Twickenham today. Picture: PPAUK

And with star youngsters like Smith, Steward and Quirke breaking through across a fruitful autumn, Jones admitted the quest for the 2023 World Cup title hurtles ever closer.

Asked if this autumn series represents a new England era, Jones replied: “Yes, we said in the summer that the Lions tour draws a line in the sand, and that you need to regenerate and have a little bit of a rebirth to go to the World Cup.

“There’s some good players coming through but we’ve got some pretty good experienced players too.

“They feel comfortable within themselves, they want to be together, they want to work together. Our stated aim is to win the World Cup, so we want to be better in the next campaign.”

Smith’s poise among the chaos of South Africa’s brutal defensive onslaught points to a playmaker quickly en route to the game’s very summit.

Jones insisted Smith still remains a “work in progress” however, despite the 22-year-old starring in the absence of injured regular captain Owen Farrell.

“Well he’s a work in progress, and each game he’s going to get a little bit better,” said Jones, of Smith. “I thought he did a great job today, but he’s going to be better in the Six Nations. I know he will be because he’s got a great desire to keep learning and to keep on getting better.”

South Africa smashed England 32-12 in the 2019 World Cup final, with Jones’ men falling short at the final hurdle in Japan.

England’s bid to lift the Webb Ellis Cup for a second time quickly switched to France in 2023, and Jones is excited by the energy of the latest new recruits.

“This series just gives the players a lot of confidence I think,” said Jones. “With the first try against Australia and a couple of tries we scored today, we’ve added some really good, aggressive attack into our game. At times the Springboks got on top of us in the set-piece, but we managed to edge out enough quality possession to score enough points.”

Asked if this win represents payback for losing the 2019 World Cup final, Jones added: “No, I think as I said before the game, it’s a one-off game between the first and the third in the world. We’re happy to knock off the top team in the world.”

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