Thursday 22 February 2018

No hiding harsh truth -- Lancaster

south Africa 36 England 27 Mick Cleary

The sentiment was upbeat but the hollow eyes told a different story.

England head coach Stuart Lancaster is a resolutely positive person but deep within he knew that his side had escaped a hiding and that there was not too much succour to be had from another battling failure.

The series is gone, 2-0, with Saturday's third Test in Port Elizabeth presenting a chance only for a spot of face-saving.

As the Lions showed three years ago, a win can put some sort of gloss on an otherwise bleak canvas, but the truth cannot be denied -- England are again also-rans in the battle to topple a Tri-Nations superpower.

The next staging post for this England side is to show that they are not content with being plucky and gallant and courageous and all those other self-deluding tags that have absolutely no currency in the southern hemisphere. Winning is what it is all about there, not performance or progress or learning. Why do the All Blacks never seem to be a side in transition? To the victor goes another casing of self-belief, to the loser a sense of inadequacy. You have to use the latter to fuel the desire to become the former.

One of the heartening things to come out of Saturday's wacky, about-turn match, one that baffled coach and commentator alike as to precisely how England had managed to claw their way back to respectability on the scoreboard, was that Lancaster does not intend to seek any refuge in the narrow margin of defeat.

"There won't be any hiding this week," said Lancaster. "We won't sit back and say that was good enough. We want to set the bar high. Of course, there's a danger of taking too much comfort and consolation from coming back to within four points with six minutes to go, but we won't review it in that context.

"We've got to drive standards even harder through training this week and put ourselves under even more pressure so that when it comes to the heat of battle, we've got that composure."

England palpably did not show any of that sangfroid in that calamitous opening period when they conceded three tries within 19 minutes and looked like school kids having their caps nicked by the bully boys. Under the hammer, certain failings were exposed.

Lancaster indicated he was already forming opinions as to who could be considered good enough to see the project through to the World Cup in 2015.

Already you wonder if No 8 Ben Morgan can sustain the early promise he showed in the Six Nations. He has looked out of his depth here. His conditioning has been suspect and that needs to be sorted.

Exeter flanker Tom Johnson was hearty and engaging on his debut in Durban but his naivety was exposed at Ellis Park. England also got more purchase when lock Tom Palmer replaced Mouritz Botha just after half-time.

The experiment of pairing Manu Tuilagi with Jonathan Joseph in the centre did not deliver any telling advantage. Sure, not much ball came their way, but Tuilagi is no craftsman. England need more guile there, and Owen Farrell would be best suited to the No 12 shirt, with Tuilagi and Joseph shuffling along to outside centre and wing respectively.

England's defence, which had been robust during the Six Nations, was flaky. England made 177 tackles on the day with an astonishing 27pc coming in that battering of the line in the opening seven minutes. Thirty-one tackles were missed in the match, a poor return. The absence of Andy Farrell is beginning to tell. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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