South Africa v England: Lancaster can take heart from Durban defeat
England may have suffered a 22-17 defeat by South Africa in their first Test, but Stuart Lancaster has plenty of reasons to be positive
Ex-South Africa captain John Smit said in the build-up to the match last Saturday that England would have no better chance of beating South Africa than the first Test.
His reasons were that the Springboks have had three training sessions – and so are relatively unprepared – and that they were playing in Durban’s “comfortable” sea-level conditions.
The next Test will be played at Johannesburg’s Coca-Cola Park – a typically intimidating and difficult place to play due to the altitude conditions and South Africa’s impressive record there.
In addition, the hosts will be looking to build upon the momentum of last Saturday’s 22-17 win and their new combinations will begin to gel and function more efficiently.
So what do England have to do to upset the odds and avoid giving their hosts an unassailable 2-0 series lead?
Firstly, they must find a way to maintain their first half intensity for the whole match. England were the better team in the first half but seemed to lose stability at the scrum and direction in gameplan when they switched ends.
Ben Young’s relatively aimless kicking from the base of scrums and rucks must also be addressed – these box kicks simply gifted counter-attacking ball to an in-form Bryan Habana.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom for there are many positives Stuart Lancaster can take from the game.
Given the nature of the second half Springbok dominance, it is a compliment to the English bravery and effort that they maintained a more than respectable scoreline.
It is this spirited defence, epitomised by Brad Barritt and Manu Tuilagi’s bone-crunching hits in the centre, coupled with Tom Johnson’s initial work at the breakdown, that England must produce more of, while being more efficient with ball-in-hand.
In this respect, perhaps the inclusion of James Haskell will now be considered. Chris Robshaw, Ben Morgan and Johnson performed adequately, England lacked a real dynamism in their ball carrying that the former Wasps man could provide.
Furthermore, he has experience of southern hemisphere conditions having spent the last few months with the Highlander’s Super Rugby franchise in New Zealand, and in Haskell, England may have an answer to the barnstorming runs from Springbok hooker Bismarck du Plessis and company.
Elsewhere in the England team selection, it looks as if Saracens centre Barritt will miss the next Test following minor eye-surgery so Lancaster will need to find a way to minimise this defensive loss in midfield.
Owen Farrell in this case may move to centre, allowing England to explore a more attack-minded game plan. England must remain positive and build upon what is essentially a fairly solid foundation Lancaster has created.
If England can make another bright start to next Saturday’s encounter and use the ball-carrying skills and defensive qualities of Haskell and Robshaw to gain momentum, they have the tools to cause an upset and re-ignite this series.