England Saxons defeated South Africa A 32 – 24 at the Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein on Friday night.
The Saxons scored three times in the first half, from Exeter Chief Alec Hepburn, Bath Rugby’s Semesa Rokoduguni and Wasps’ Nick Robson.
Sale Sharks fly-half Danny Cipriani added two conversions and a penalty, giving the side a 22-3 lead at the half time whistle.
However, South Africa A fought back in the second period hauling themselves to within a point thanks to tries from Francois Brummer, Piet Van Zyl and Sikhumbuzo Notshe.
The Saxons held on and a try from Bath Rugby’s Ollie Devoto, with two minutes remaining, sealed the win in the first of the two match series.
Head Coach Ali Hepher said: “Hats off to the guys, they dug in at the end to come away with a score at a crucial time to close the game. I’m really pleased – we still have an opportunity to win the series and are already thinking towards next week."
All three of the Saxons' first half tries came as a result of turnovers, displaying the sharp counter attacking threat of the team.
For the first, Saracen Nick Tompkins intercepted a loose pass to break away and a phase later Hepburn went over in the corner. For the second, Gloucester Rugby openside Matt Kvesic stole the ball at the breakdown, which allowed a wide pass to Rokoduguni to get free and chip over the last man to score.
The third came after a knock-on forced by defensive pressure, which Tompkins latched on to and Robson finished with a mazy run.
Saracens 20-year-old centre Tompkins was a constant threat in attack, with a direct hand in two of England's tries. The former England U20 player had the hosts on the back foot for most of the evening in an impressive display. He was backed up by his centre partner Devoto, who won his first senior cap against Wales recently.
Devoto sealed the win after Wasps winger Christian Wade hacked on and Sam James popped up to Devoto on the line.
Captain Dave Attwood said: “We’re delighted to come away with the win. You don’t get second chances in international rugby and so it was great to get that done.”
Hepher added that the attention would now turn to clinching the series next week in George and fine tuning some areas of the performance.
"We could have gone about it a bit better in the second half but hats off to the guys, they dug in at the end and came away with a crucial score to close the game," he said.
"I'm really pleased. We've set up an opportunity to try and win the series now. We are already thinking towards next week and we'll start preparing for that."
The Saxons now travel to Cape Town to prepare for the second and final game at Outeniqua Park in George on Friday 17 June (KO 6.10pm BST).
South Africa A 24 – 32 England Saxons
Tries: Devoto, Hepburn, Rokoduguni, Robson
Conversions: Cipriani (3)
Penalties: Cipriani (2)
England Saxons match-day 23 against South Africa ‘A’
15. Mike Haley (Sale Sharks)
14. Semesa Rokoduguni (Bath Rugby, 1 senior England cap)
13. Nick Tompkins (Saracens)
12. Ollie Devoto (Bath Rugby, 1 senior England cap)
11. Alex Lewington (London Irish)
10. Danny Cipriani (Sale Sharks, 14 senior England caps)
9. Dan Robson (Wasps)
1. Alec Hepburn (Exeter Chiefs)
2. Tommy Taylor (Sale Sharks, 1 senior England cap)
3. Kieran Brookes (Northampton Saints, 16 senior England caps)
4. Dave Attwood (Bath Rugby, 23 senior England caps) (C)
5. Charlie Ewels (Bath Rugby)
6. Donovan Armand (Exeter Chiefs)
7. Matt Kvesic (Gloucester, 3 senior England caps)
8. Sam Jones (Wasps)
16. George McGuigan (Newcastle Falcons)
17. Ross Harrison (Sale Sharks)
18. Jake Cooper-Woolley (Wasps)
19. Mitch Lees (Exeter Chiefs)
20. Dave Ewers (Exeter Chiefs)
21. Micky Young (Newcastle Falcons)
22. Sam James (Sale Sharks)
23. Christian Wade (Wasps, 1 senior England cap)