TWICKENHAM, London -- Mark this game down as being one that made little sense, but one which is also the most important victory of Eddie Jones' England tenure.
As England held out 15 phases of South African attacks, with the clock well into the red, Jones patrolled the touchline. And then came the fist pump of victory as the ball was hoofed into the crowd. But then, further drama as the TMO checked on the final tackle of the game from Owen Farrell on Andre Esterhuizen as he appeared to hit the South African with little else than his shoulder.
The referee put it down to a collision, with Farrell's attempt to wrap the other arm around enough to prevent the penalty. But in these days of increased awareness around the tackle area, on first viewing, Farrell can count himself lucky a potential match-winning penalty didn't follow.
It was the full stop on a truly bizarre match.
This was England's version of a Rumble in the Jungle rope-a-dope as South Africa threw punch after punch, but somehow had just a two-point first-half advantage, primarily due to their own carelessness. Then came the England comeback, nudging into the lead without having set foot in the Springboks' 22 thanks to the boots of Owen Farrell and Elliot Daly. That was at the 51-minute mark and with that came a foothold and ultimately the most spirited of victories when rhyme, reason and that first-half showing suggested otherwise.
At half-time, it looked for all the world like it would be Jones fielding awkward questions about his future in the aftermath. Even with the longest of injury lists including a number of first-choice players parked on the sidelines, the pressure was still on against a backdrop of one win from six for England dating back to this year's Six Nations.
But after a first half where they were forced into rugby's equivalent of parking the bus, they started to find opportunity, looking up and attacking space rather than kicking into it. Jones called it an "arm wrestle" up to that point -- had it been that, England would have been retired with a broken elbow.
It was only once England had their one-point lead they started to play. They moved the ball, rather than kicking it. They recycled it, brought tempo and suddenly the previously untested Springboks defence was forced to scramble.
By this stage South Africa had already squandered plenty of attacking territory. Three times their lineout misfired, with Malcolm Marx overthrowing. They failed to transfer their ability and experience into points against an England side featuring a pack where co-captain Dylan Hartley had more caps than the other seven players put together.
Despite their meagre Test experience, England's back-row matched their more illustrious South African counterparts. Mark Wilson was superb at No.8, Brad Shields a constant nuisance while Tom Curry played well until he was forced off injured. Zach Mercer, Curry's replacement, proved to be more than a mere able deputy and did his World Cup chances no harm. England's front-row took a hammering, pushed off their own ball once and copped scrum penalties. But despite all these factors giving South Africa a platform, and England's discipline again lettng them down, the Springboks could not make it count. Also, crucially, Eben Etzebeth had to depart at the same time as Curry, which was a huge loss for the Springboks pack.
England played one quarter of the first half with 14 men after Maro Itoje's yellow card following his third penalty in the first 16 minutes. But England actually won that period 3-0 before Itoje returned and Sibusiso Nkosi touched down for the only try of the game shortly after.
Only once they were 9-8 ahead did England spring to life. Their woeful discipline suddenly fell on the right side of referee Gardner and then they remembered how to play. They moved the ball, Itoje galloped through the midfield and then they managed to put the likes of Jonny May and Jack Nowell into space. Nowell was superb on the right wing, while Elliot Daly carried with aplomb and his accurate boot again proved to be a rare weapon in England's arsenal, landing a near-halfway penalty to put England in front for the first time 11 minutes into the second half.
Henry Slade and Ben Te'o worked well in tandem in the centres while the bench gave England the impetus they needed. But England's star man was Farrell. But for his last-minute brush with the TMO, the co-captain gave England bite and ensured they maintained focus. Moments prior to that he had ripped the ball from the South Africans as they barrelled towards the England line. He was at his rambunctious best.
Underlying this England victory was a sturdy defence. Surrendering just one try is credit to the work of Jones and their new defence coach John Mitchell, but it was also down to spirit and a self-belief that seemed pretty unique to this England side.
The first half showed how far England have to go before they can be considered World Cup contenders. But that second-half performance highlighted their heart. Those on the sidelines will come back, and their World Cup charge will find some momentum again.
Perhaps when Japan 2019 ticks around next September, this will be looked on as a seminal moment in Jones' tenure. And all that with the All Blacks up next weekend at Twickenham.