Lose the turnovers and Woodward can see all the way to Sydney

Coach's view
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The Independent Online

Once upon a time a 50-point winning margin over South Africa would have been strictly in the realms of a fairy story. However, there was just the slightest sense of a somewhat tarnished victory at Twickenham yesterday.

Once upon a time a 50-point winning margin over South Africa would have been strictly in the realms of a fairy story. However, there was just the slightest sense of a somewhat tarnished victory at Twickenham yesterday.

Almost all of this was down to the red card dished out by the referee, Paddy O'Brien, to the Springbok lock, Jannes Labuschagne, in the 22nd minute. This gave England, already superior, such dominance at the set piece that the game was effectively over as a contest. A young and hounded South African side lost their discipline and handed the game to England on a plate.

It was always going to be a tough ask for Rudi Straeuli's men at the end of a difficult European tour, but they did themselves no favours by trying to bully England out of their rhythm. There is far too much experience and hard-nosed nous in the England pack for those tactics to do any more than mildly inconvenience them for a few minutes. The approach backfired not only because the South Africans lost a man – they also lost their composure and defensive shape.

Given that England eventually accumulated seven tries, it is indeed somewhat churlish to express even the slightest disappointment in their first-half performance. But in truth there were far too many turnovers conceded and other sloppiness. Phil Christophers had a nightmare first half in his first major international. Four times he carried the ball, three times he lost it – not what you want on your home debut. Nor was he alone. Even the paragon that is Jonny Wilkinson coughed up a couple of passes to allow South Africa to remain vaguely in touch early on.

The level of accuracy required for the game that England purport to play is very high and there were too many technical errors in the early stages. For heaven's sake, there was even the merest hint of a mistake from Richard Hill – which must be the first one sighted in this millennium. Perhaps it was a trick of the light.

But as the game wore on it turned into completely one-way traffic. All spectators were able to see how comfortable every England player is with the ball in hand. From one to 22 they were at ease and in control, whether in the tackle area, the wide-open spaces or the driving maul. Time and again, they refused to be rushed and sought to keep the ball alive even when pushed towards the sideline. The number of phases is immaterial – England are equally happy to score from pushover tries, rolling mauls or the more aesthetically pleasing multi-phase attack. The common threads are control of the ball and excellent option-taking.

If no pressure is applied by the opposition – and once the first quarter was over there was precious little from the Springboks – then this England side looks outstanding. The only question is how much you can read into a 14-man challenge, which is, self-evidently, something of a contradiction in terms.

Looking at the series as a whole, Clive Woodward has to be pleased. Young players such as Christophers, Lewis Moody and James Simpson-Daniel have been blooded, while men of the calibre of Ben Cohen, Phil Vickery and Steve Thompson have come of age. The squad look to have strength in depth and are certainly the equal of any side in the world. There is nothing more they have to prove when it comes to playing at Twickenham.

Now they will use the Six-Nations as a means of honing their tactics and game plan before the final preparations for the World Cup, which will take place away from home in the summer. Playing Australia and New Zealand on their own patch will be of a completely different order of magnitude than anything they have faced this autumn.

However, there is no doubt that these three wins on the spin are a significant achievement. The profile of the game in England has never been higher, while the opportunities on offer in the next 12 months in terms of establishing rugby union within the wider sporting consciousness of the nation are immense.

The country is desperate for a team that can win on the world stage. The last few weeks have been an important staging post in a journey that may end in Sydney in 12 months' time.

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