The Boks were up 13-3 early on, after an intercept try by centre Jan Serfontein and two penalties and a conversion by flyhalf Pat Lambie, but they had to do the majority of the defending with England enjoying the monopoly of territory and possession.
“I think we set the tone with some brilliant defence early in the match and controlled matters in the first half,” said De Villiers, who played his seventh Test of the season after missing the June Tests with a knee injury.
“We definitely didn’t lack anything when it came to physicality or controlled aggression.”
While he felt they had enough possession, unlike in their defeat to Ireland a week earlier, it was the quality of the possession which made a difference on the day.
“We also had good ball, which made things easier,” De Villiers said.
“I think all things considered it was a good performance, but we know there are still areas we can improve on and have to keep working hard to fix them.”
The Boks move on to Padova to face Italy next weekend, but they are likely to need a replacement for prop Jannie du Plesis (leg injury), along with flank Schalk Burger who was only available for the opening two Test matches.
The fourth and final game of the tour, against Wales in Cardiff, will also fall out of the IRB’s Test window, which means overseas players including Bryan Habana, Morne Steyn, JP Pietersen, Gurthro Steenkamp, Bakkies Botha, Burger and Jano Vermaak will not be available.