England co-captain Owen Farrell almost went from hero to villain as an injury-hit side came from behind to beat South Africa 12-11 in their opening November international at Twickenham on Saturday.
Farrell's penalty seven minutes from time, the third of four scored by an England team who didn't manage a try, nudged the hosts into a one-point lead.
There was drama right at the end when, with 80 minutes played, Australian referee Angus Gardner consulted the television match official to see if fly-half Farrell had committed a no-arm tackle on Springbok replacement Andre Esterhuizen.
But the officials decided Farrell had made enough of a legal challenge not to award a penalty that could have seen South Africa snatch victory.
"It's hard to keep your arms round when someone's running that hard but thankfully there was a bit of common sense," Farrell, sharing the leadership with hooker Dylan Hartley, told Sky Sports.
Fair tackle or was Farrell lucky to get away with this? 🤔 pic.twitter.com/0YPDyUo2ob— RugbyLAD (@RugbyLAD7) November 3, 2018
England coach Eddie Jones, having seen his new-look side launch their countdown to next year's World Cup in Japan by clinging on for a win, praised the hosts' resilience.
"We had players out on their feet," he said. "A real show of resistance, a lot of toughness in our play."
Disappointed Springbok captain Siya Kolisi added: "We made it tough for ourselves. We had so many chances that we could have taken.
"We know we are our own enemies," admitted the flanker.
You have to applaud England's patchwork team for that win. But that Farrell tackle... You don't get that decision every day.— Alex Spink (@alexspinkmirror) November 3, 2018
South Africa dominated territory and possession in an opening 40 minutes where England lock Maro Itoje was sent to the sin-bin.
Yet they turned round a mere 8-6 in front, having scored the game's only try through wing Sbu Nkosi, with fly-half Handre Pollard kicking a penalty to two from England counterpart Farrell.
England, despite being on the defensive for so long, took a 9-8 lead early in the second period when long-range kick specialist Elliot Daly landed a penalty from just inside the Springbok half.
Pollard hit back with another for the Springboks before grazing the post three minutes from time.
England's last match had seen them beat South Africa 25-10 in Cape Town in June, although the Springboks won the three-match series 2-1.
They kicked-off, however, with Jones under pressure after a run of five defeats in their previous six Tests in total.
England were without injured forwards, Billy and Mako Vunipola, Chris Robshaw and Joe Launchbury as well as the suspended Nathan Hughes.
South Africa were missing the English club-based duo of fullback Willie le Roux and-half Faf de Klerk, with Wasps and Sale not obliged to release them for a fixture that fell outside World Rugby's November window.
The Springboks took a sixth-minute lead through Pollard's 40-metre penalty.
Then a hanging cross-kick was superbly caught by a leaping Nkosi, but the right wing was held up just short of the try-line before a scrambling Itoje was sin-binned.
England, despite being a man down, were level when Farrell kicked a 45-metre penalty.
But after several handling errors, South Africa's pressure told in the 33rd minute when, with left wing Aphiwe Dyantyi coming across to the opposite flank to keep England fullback Daly occupied, quick and smooth passing allowed Nkosi to scamper in at the corner for a try.
Pollard missed the conversion, and minutes later Farrell cut South Africa's lead to 8-6 with a well-struck penalty from wide on the left.
The Springboks suffered a setback when lock Eben Etzebeth limped off early in the second half.
They then conceded a penalty just inside their own half and Daly booted England into a remarkable 9-8 lead.
On the hour mark, Farrell just fell short with a penalty and minutes later Pollard made it 11-9 to the Springboks.
Back came England, flanker Brad Shields losing possession in sight of a try.
Replacement prop Harry Williams then forced a scrum penalty and, from the left touchline Farrell landed a superb kick to leave England 12-11 ahead.
England face New Zealand at Twickenham next weekend, when South Africa play France in Paris.