England head coach Stuart Lancaster says their loss to the Springboks will make them doubly determined to reverse the result in Johannesburg.
England were the better side by some way in the first half and would have been a good bet to snap their losing streak against the Springboks on the strength of that showing. However, the Boks regrouped and improved after the break, upping the tempo to bank what turned out to be a comfortable win, despite what the 22-17 scoreline suggests.
Lancaster said the Springboks would pose an even sterner challenge in the second Test, but noted that so would England. He added that a three-Test series was a truer reflection of the superior team because it gave the coaching staff and players room to rectify areas of concern and have another crack.
‘A three-Test series is a great coaching challenge and a great opportunity to assess where we stand on the world stage. The boys are disappointed but not downcast. If anything there will be a motivation to right the wrongs,’ he said.
Lancaster pointed to their fade in the third quarter as terminal to their cause. ‘I was very pleased with our first half effort. We moved the ball well and kept it alive. At times they were scrambling hard to reorganise their line. Our set piece was good and we went into the break confident,’ he said.
‘Obviously a critical area to work on is that third quarter where the Springboks controlled the game well. They got good momentum off the back off the five-man lineout. And once they were across the gainline, no matter how quickly we got around the corner, eventually the hard-running forwards made a dent in us and Morne Steyn moved the ball wide and caught us defending narrow. A starting point would not be presenting opportunities in that area of the field and secondly we have to win the gainline battle, which is crucial against South Africa.
‘But I was delighted with the mindset we showed to keep playing for the 80 minutes though. There are one or two things that need to be worked on but there are a lot of positives.’
Forwards coach Graham Rowntree said the Springboks’ superior muscle off the wood was decisive. ‘The last quarter was crucial for us and they brought some fresh cattle on, fresh beasts, and we struggled to deal with that. That is an area to improve on.’
Lancaster rejected the suggestion they weren’t ambitious enough in their attacking play, pointing to their lack of experience as significant to tactical errors they made.
‘It wasn’t our risk taking. Composure is key. Have to ensure we play right place, right time. Equally when we have opportunities to get the ball off the field we do so. We also have to work on our exiting from our 22m. So I don’t think it was a mindset problem or a lack of positivity. It was a composure issue. That’s what happens when you play at this level – the margins are very small.’