Lancaster applauds 'changing of the guard' as new-look England begin to believe
When England headed to South Africa three weeks ago they left as a side of promise: they return as a team with credibility. That much can be taken from a grafting draw, a result that could and should have been translated into victory.
More composure, better judgment, less frenetic snatch-and-go-for-glory with a hurried dropped goal, would have earned this team their spurs. As it is, England have nudged themselves forward from a decent Six Nations showing but it is no more than a half-step. Anything less than three out of four victories in the autumn series must be considered a failure.
England still lack world-class game-breakers, players who can shape and transform a match, forwards, too, who can pummel the opposition with fierce ball-carrying.
Full-back Alex Goode, flanker Tom Johnson, prop Joe Marler and, on Saturday, old hands, scrum-half Danny Care and back-rower James Haskell, have emerged with credit. In the back-up squad, the likes of hooker Tom Youngs and Gloucester's Jonny May have given a glimpse of what might be.
"You can see that there's been a changing of the guard, a new generation coming through," head coach Stuart Lancaster said. "The strongest tool I have is the power of selection. The players now know that and are aware that no one has a God-given right to a shirt."
Players will find that out in about 10 days' time when Lancaster names a 32-man elite player squad as well as a 32-man Saxons squad. Even though he can pull through players from the junior squad, the formal announcement still gives an idea of the pecking order. There will be a three-day training camp at Loughborough starting on August 6 followed by a week-long session prior to the opening of the November Test programme against Fiji.
What Lancaster has demonstrated is that he has the firm backing of the RFU, the loyalty of his players and also enjoys the will of the people. England have won hearts and minds. The next step is to claim a southern hemisphere scalp. If they had opted to kick for goal midway through the first half, or shown the patience that enabled Munster's Ronan O'Gara to drop successfully for goal earlier this season after 42 phases, then they would have been celebrating their first win in South Africa in 12 years.
The early loss to a knee injury of Toby Flood hampered them while Owen Farrell has lost the assurance that was once so marked in his game. His kicking from hand was off-beam, so too his decision-making. Apart from the attempted tackle by Johnson to prevent JP Pietersen's 62nd-minute try, no one could fault England's defence.
Care's tap-and-go try in the 11th minute was the centre-piece of an encouraging return to international rugby. England did benefit from yet more wayward goal-kicking by South Africa's out-half, Morne Steyn, who was roundly booed by the crowd. The Springboks, so dominant in the opening two Tests, were blinkered and limited. England, in contrast, have reason to believe. (© Daily Telegraph, London)