South Africa 36 England 27: Lessons from a valiant display
Oliver Porritt looks back at the lessons Stuart Lancaster can take from England's 36-27 defeat by South Africa on Saturday
Springboks too strong for England
England were outmuscled and outclassed by South Africa for large periods of Saturday’s second test in Johannesburg’s Ellis Park stadium but the men in white showed enough fight to give fans hope for the future. The Springboks were fortunate in the manner they took the lead from a scrum which should have been reset after only two minutes, but they had started the game in a blistering fashion. There was nothing elaborate about the home team’s game plan. They simply got their big men running onto the ball from deep and watched as they pummelled their way through would-be tacklers. England fought valiantly but appeared shell-shocked by the intensity of the Springbok attack which lasted for most of the first half. And on their rare attempts to make ground, there were too many errors, characterised by frustrating forward passes and knock-ons. England currently lack the ball carriers they need to replicate South Africa’s direct running lines and they will not appear overnight. But given the lack of invention in midfield they need a set of forwards who can front up and bash their way over the gain line. Of course all of this is impossible without the ball and too often England chose to kick away the limited possession they had in the hope they could gain territory, not a great plan when Bryan Habana, or in fact any international winger of full back, is looking for a slice of the action.
Lancaster has restored pride in England shirt
After an atrocious World Cup campaign last year, Stuart Lancaster’s first job when he took over from Martin Johnson was to restore pride in the shirt and whatever other failings are laid at his door, he has certainly achieved this. England were out of the game by half-time when they trailed 25-10 following a torrid opening 40 minutes. But they battled to the end and were within four points with only seven minutes left and if Ben Foden’s chip through had cleared Francois Steyn the English may have been toasting their first win in South Africa since 2000. Their cause was helped by South Africa taking off key players with a quarter of the match still to play, but they still had the belief they could pull off a historic fight back in the Springboks’ back yard. This ultimately did not materialise but England under Lancaster display a never-say-die attitude that will see them win games against the run of play. It may, though, paper over some cracks that need to be exposed if England are to progress to the 2015 World Cup with a realistic shot at lifting the title. They remain a young and inexperienced side, only three of the starting 15 had more than 30 caps, so they will grow, but they need more creativity.
Young continues to improve at scrum-half
Competition for England’s scrum-half berth as well as being unceremoniously dropped midway through the Six Nations has clearly had the desired effect on Ben Youngs. While not back to his sizzling best, the Leicester No9 was a much greater threat than earlier this year when he was relegated to the bench after a poor display in England’s narrow win in Italy. With Lee Dickson and a recalled Danny Care pushing him, Youngs is looking sharper and was at his opportunistic best to nick two tries but there are still areas to improve. His box kicking was better than it was during the early games of the Six Nations, but there are still too many aimless kicks. And at times he was giving Toby Flood little chance to break the gain line due to his propensity to run sideways for five or ten feet with the ball before releasing his fly half. By that point the Springbok defence had lined up their opposing backs and there was little room for manoeuvre, particularly for Flood who loves to play on or close to the gain line. When Youngs passed directly from the back of a ruck the England backs looked far more likely of being creative. Sadly a shoulder injury has ruled Youngs out of the third and final test, but it may give Danny Care a shot at redemption after his various wrong doings, though Lee Dickson will likely get the nod and with it a chance to recapture the form which saw him take over from Youngs in the Six Nations.