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Lancaster tells England to sharpen up after bitter defeat

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The England squad, pictured here playing Ireland at the RBS Six Nations Rugby Championship, are aware an improvement is required following a "pretty honest" review of Saturday's bitterly disappointing defeat by the All Blacks (Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE)

The England squad, pictured here playing Ireland at the RBS Six Nations Rugby Championship, are aware an improvement is required following a "pretty honest" review of Saturday's bitterly disappointing defeat by the All Blacks (Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE)

SPORTSFILE

The England squad, pictured here playing Ireland at the RBS Six Nations Rugby Championship, are aware an improvement is required following a "pretty honest" review of Saturday's bitterly disappointing defeat by the All Blacks (Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE)

A third of England's current starting line-up are under the care of the red-rose medical staff ahead of this weekend's must-win game against South Africa at Twickenham, but the head coach Stuart Lancaster remains confident he will be able to pick from strength.

And those selected will be aware that an improvement is required following a "pretty honest" review of Saturday's bitterly disappointing defeat by the All Blacks.

"There is definitely a lot of frustration in the group," Lancaster said yesterday. "We haven't glossed over anything in going into the reasons why, having played well in the first half, we left ourselves no margin for error and failed to respond when they upped their game after the interval.

"We'll need to find a complete, 80-minute performance against the Springboks because I've no doubt there will be a reaction from them following their defeat in Ireland."

Two members of an already battered tight-five unit - the hooker Dylan Hartley and the lock Courtney Lawes - are suffering from concussion after taking smacks to the head during the All Blacks game and will have to pass a cognitive test early on Thursday morning if they are to face the Springboks, the one major side Lancaster's England have yet to beat.

Another member of the heavy mob, Lawes' in-form boilerhouse partner Dave Attwood, picked up a knee injury, while the new wing Semesa Rokoduguni and the centre Kyle Eastmond have contrasting issues of their own. Rokoduguni is struggling with a hip problem while his Bath club-mate has a sickness bug.

While Lancaster's first instinct is to restrict changes to a bare minimum - "You feel you want to give people a second chance after just one game," he said - the injury list may force him to reconsider.

As if he did not have enough on his plate, the coach also learned that Hartley, far and away his number one hooker, was being linked by French media with a move across the water to Montpellier.

This would not affect the Northampton captain's commitments at next year's home World Cup, but as it is Rugby Football Union policy not to pick from abroad if it can possibly be avoided, it would certainly put him off-limits thereafter. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent