South Africa extended its dominance over England by resisting a second-half fightback to close out a 31-28 win at Twickenham on Sunday, leaving next year's Rugby World Cup host stuttering on a five-game losing run.
Starved of possession, the Springboks used opportunist finishing to build a 20-6 lead thanks to center Jan Serfontein's 60-metre interception score in the 16th minute and a 42nd-minute try by scrumhalf Cobus Reinach following a stunning offload by Willie le Roux.
England wiped out the deficit within six minutes through tries by David Wilson and replacement Ben Morgan, both from driving mauls and both while veteran South Africa lock Victor Matfield was in the sin-bin.
Schalk Burger halted English momentum by immediately restoring South Africa's lead with a close-range try, and Pat Lambie kicked a penalty and a dropped goal to make Brad Barritt's last-gasp try for England a mere consolation. Lambie scored 16 points on his first start at flyhalf in a year.
South Africa hasn't lost to England in 12 matches since 2006, with this disciplined performance in steady drizzle a vast improvement on last week's 29-15 defeat in Ireland, which augurs well for its chances in an autumn World Cup in the northern hemisphere.
"The big difference from last week and this week was our intensity," South Africa captain Jean de Villiers. "Mentally we turned up today."
As for England, progress under Stuart Lancaster appears to have stalled. Five straight defeats is the national team's worst run since 2006, when a sorry streak of seven consecutive losses cost coach Andy Robinson his job.
Lancaster's job is safe - he recently signed a new six-year deal - but the scrutiny on him is growing 10 months out from a home World Cup.
"I believe in the coaches and I believe in what we are doing," Lancaster said. "We want to turn the hurt into a positive. We will not panic or lose our nerve."
South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer pinpointed Burger's try as a crucial turning point, coming just as England's tails were up and Twickenham found its voice following the hosts' error-prone first half.
The Springboks were in their opponent's half for just 19 percent of the first half-hour, but fed off a slew of English handling errors and indiscipline to first establish a 10-point lead after 16 minutes and reach halftime 13-6 in front.
"We gave points away rather than them having to earn them," Lancaster said. "We could have been smarter in the first half."
South Africa was already 3-0 up when England scrumhalf Danny Care, playing his 50th international, took two steps before wafting out a pass that Serfontein pounced on and dashed from 10 meters inside his own half to ground under the crossbar.
England's impressive set-piece gave the team so much of the ball, but panic and poor decision-making ruined its attacks. Owen Farrell booted two penalties in the final 13 minutes of the half reduced the gap but South Africa showed more opportunism by scoring 45 seconds after the restart - and it involved a touch of class from Le Roux.
The world player of the year nominee collected a deft kick by Lambie and then sent Reinach over with a back-of-the-hand offload that brought gasps from the crowd.
With Matfield off the pitch for cynically bringing down a maul, England sensed an opportunity and prop Wilson splintered off a maul from the resulting lineout to dive over from close range for his first international try.
Morgan, minutes after coming on as a substitute, finished off another driving maul on England's next attack, spinning away and driving through two tackles to force his way over the line.
Burger's try was crucial in reviving the Springboks and England's hopes of another comeback were virtually dashed when Dylan Hartley was sin-binned for stamping.
This latest setback against South Africa came after four straight losses to New Zealand, ensuring the Rugby World Cup host heads to the global showpiece with a psychological barrier between them and the world's top two teams.