After the first test there were improvements in how England had played. For example, their attacking prowess was better and they started quickly but there were still the issues of ill-discipline and conceding penalties at the breakdown. South Africa managed to overturn a 24-3 deficit in a game which saw ten tries scored between the two teams.
Fast forward one week and South Africa came back from a 12-0 deficit to win the match 23-12. The defeat was Eddie Jones’ side fifth Test loss in-a-row, six if you include the Barbarians defeat, and many of the mistakes on show are the same ones as the previous week. A player sent to the sin bin late on in the match, this week it was Nathan Hughes who made a blatant error that was always going to be penalised.
Jones made a few changes to the side with Chris Robshaw being dropped and Joe Launchbury coming back into the side having recovered from his injury. However, it wasn’t enough and the errors seemed to be engrained into the side. Unless the ill-discipline is eradicated England cannot produce the performances needed to be successful against the best sides in the world.
Jones admitted to BBC Sport that discipline is a major issue, “We had some great meetings with the players where they brought forward areas they think we need to improve in. We are going to attempt to improve our discipline. So if we turn that around that will go a long way to effecting the result. The focus is there and the attitude is there, and I’m absolutely convinced we’ll play much better this week than we played last week.”
Throughout this year, there has been a lot of talk about how many players England have available for selection and that this number has been reduced due to the amount of injuries. Before the second test, there were 25 players who were unavailable because of injuries but that has increased once again with Billy Vunipola and Ellis Genge being sent home with a fractured arm and a knee injury, respectively.
Coming off the back of a Lions tour, Jones said that he was going to rest the more experienced members of the squad and those who went to New Zealand. However, some of the squad changes were enforced rather than Jones choosing to rest players and he believes this has played a role in how England have performed.
Jones told BBC Sport, “I always knew we were going to go through a tough period and I always knew, post the Lions tour, we were going to run into difficulties, and the great thing at the moment is we are getting a great test for our depth and resilience. We are developing the character of the team, which is going to turn into a great team. It is tough. But we have kept together and we are all on the same page. We will get the result we want.”
The England head coach will be hoping that he can turn around the team’s form ahead of the third Test and more importantly the Autumn internationals. While he was head coach of Australia, Jones incurred a similar bad streak of games and was sacked as a result. He added, “Back then [with Australia] I listened to too many people. What I realise now is that this is a natural process, that unfortunately sometimes you have to go through this as a team to go to the next level, and that’s what we are going through at the moment. You have to stick to your principles.”
When a team gets onto a losing streak, it can be difficult for fortunes to change especially when they see improvement in specific areas of the game. England have seen an attacking prowess return to the side but they have been unable to get rid of the errors and ill-discipline, particularly at the breakdown.
Captain Dylan Hartley was not able to travel to South Africa due to a series of concussions which left him sidelined for the latter part of the season. Is the lack of leadership having an influence on how the team are playing? With Owen Farrell as captain, there is somebody who is very experienced in the side but it is possible that he has taken on too much responsibility. At points during the second Test, decisions were questioned as England could have taken three points but instead decided to kick to touch in search of a try.
Furthermore, for two Test matches in-a-row the Springboks have bounced back from a deficit and gone on to win the match. England seemingly could not figure out how to breakdown South Africa and they were left frustrated time and again. The rut that England have found themselves in only seems to be getting bigger. Eddie Jones’ leadership has been called into question amid rumours about whether the coach has lost the dressing room. Despite the loss of the series, the mentality of the team needs to remain strong to prove that they are still winners.
The final Test will take place on Saturday 23rd June at the Newlands Stadium in Cape Town, with kick-off being at 16.05 GMT.
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