England vs South Africa: Five clouds on Stuart Lancaster's horizon

England 28 South Africa 31: England have to stop giving the opposition an easy ride if they are to challenge for the World Cup

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The Independent Online

Winning games against the southern hemisphere

Lancaster’s England will find it hard to win games if they hand out so many gifts. Of South Africa’s first-half points, not one was genuinely earned: England ran ball out of defence and were caught and penalised, conceded an interception try and then collapsed a maul.

If you compound the situation by failing to take the points on offer, you cannot expect to close out matches with the odd second-half burst. If England’s main work in training last week focused on execution, handling and decision-making, then it was a wasted week.

Continuity in selection

Unfair, Lancaster’s supporters will cry; he retained the same team that might have beaten New Zealand barring injury, and he has been hard- hit by injuries. But do we know, and does the England coach know, his optimum starting XV? There are only four survivors of the XV that drew 14-14 with the Springboks in Port Elizabeth in 2012, only three from the side that lost by a point at Twickenham five months later.

 

With the World Cup only 10 months away, England’s core players should be self-evident, but still we search for a solid spine. Dylan Hartley, despite his yellow card, is one and Mike Brown is another, but in between the arguments rage.

What to do against Samoa on Saturday?

Plan for change or retain those in whom you have vested so much confidence? So many queries have been raised in the games against the first- and second-ranked countries in world rugby that other players deserve a start against the islanders, who will pose very different problems. George Ford has to be given time, while Ben Morgan and front-row men Matt Mullan and Rob Webber have earned the right to start.

Yet at the forefront of the England management thinking now will be the need simply to win. England need to put points on the board, they need to acquire the self-confidence to beat Australia in the final match of the autumn and they will not need reminding the Wallabies are pool opponents at the World Cup.

What about discipline?

The penalty count yesterday ended all square, but England’s analysts need to come up with a horror clip of the worst offences. Hartley may have thought that Duane Vermeulen deserved a shoeing for lying on the wrong side of the ruck, but we are not living in the 1980s; the game has been sanitised, and players must perform accordingly or suffer dismissal to the sin bin.

Discipline is also required in overall play. Retaining the ball is a discipline, and England were turned over eight times in the first half alone. Though the second half showed improvement, there was still the odd dropped ball. Certain areas of the game must be automatic areas of excellence, and yesterday did not show that.

Any silver linings?

The set-pieces were outstanding. In a match of few scrums England had the advantage against a country who love a good scrum. Only one line-out was lost out of 21, and that just after the introduction of a new hooker in Webber; sadly it took place 10 metres from South Africa’s try-line. There were signs that Brad Barritt and Kyle Eastmond might work up a decent midfield understanding, while Brown was in dominant form at the back.

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