180 seconds of madness! But England have much more to put right than just scrambled thinking
01:16 GMT, 26 November 2012
Each week there is a different focus for the England inquest. This time, Stuart Lancaster was asked to identify the principal shortcoming in his side's game.
'Composure' was the response. The national coach is growing weary of the so-near-yet-so-far routine.
Another single-digit defeat against weakened southern-hemisphere opposition leaves England in grave danger of concluding this QBE International campaign with a dire return of one win and three defeats.
Madness: Captain Chris Robshaw made the wrong call in the latter stages of the game
Crucial score: Willem Alberts goes over the line for the only try of the game despite the attentions of Joe Launchbury
That supposes the host nation cannot possibly upset the world champions on Saturday.
On the basis of the latest evidence,
that is a fair assumption. The All Blacks swatted Wales aside while
England were picking through the rubble of this latest setback.
Put aside the debate about 'that'
penalty and Lancaster's observation about composure stands up to closer
scrutiny on various levels.
This result was not solely a
consequence of scrambled thinking in the dying seconds, it was founded
on a lack of composed execution too. While a piercing spotlight is
trained on captain Chris Robshaw's decision making, a telling example of
the fundamental shortcomings hindering England actually took place
With referee Nigel Owens playing
advantage, the home side worked an overlap on the right, Alex Goode
jinked forward but his pass was high and in front of Chris Ashton, who
Manu Tuilagi was lurking outside and
would have taken some stopping if released.
When the pressure was
stifling, the composure to execute accurately was lacking.
Earlier, in the 53rd minute, came an
even more glaring example. Tuilagi seized an interception and burst out
of defence before calmly waiting for support and releasing Ashton.
Family affair: Tom Youngs (left) attempts to intervene as Eben Etzebeth grapples with brother Ben
The Saracen appeared ready to reprise
his wonder try against Australia two years ago with an arcing run clear
of the covering defence, but instead he tried to release Mike Brown and
the pass was woefully inadequate.
A rare scoring chance was wasted. In a
day of debate about decision making Ashton admitted he may have taken
the wrong option, saying: 'Hindsight is a wonderful thing. I thought he
was a lot closer.
'I'm thinking now I probably should have had a go.'
While the wet conditions did nothing
to aid handling precision, England also lost lineout composure, with the
towering Eben Etzebeth managing to poach several home throws.
England had plenty of possession, but
it was squandered with aimless kicks – too deep and without the back-up
of an effective chase.
Toby Flood missed two shots at goal before he was replaced by Owen Farrell.
Hands up: Chris Robshaw is closed down by Adriaan Strauss (left) and Francois Louw
The first-choice No 10 left
Twickenham in a protective boot after suffering a toe injury and,
although a scan revealed no broken bones, he is seemingly destined to
miss the clash with New Zealand.
In that event Farrell is the man
most likely to take over at fly-half, but he could not conjure an
opening as England's replacement playmaker during a second half when
Lancaster's men swarmed forward but didn't appear capable of unlocking a
robust Springbok defence.
Gloucester's Freddie Burns re-joined the squad last night as the form stand-off in the country and he will be considered.
Bath wing Tom Biggs and, with Alex
Corbisiero struggling because of a knee injury, Gloucester prop Nick
Wood were also summoned.
It is fitting to note that the
attacking platform this week was made of sturdier stuff as the home pack
rose to the challenge posed by South Africa's imposing forwards.
After being out-muscled by Australia this was a stirring riposte.
Running free: Alex Goode breaks away from the clutches of Jannie du Plessis
Lock Geoff Parling was magnificent,
Joe Launchbury showed power and aggression on his full debut, Tom Wood
galvanised the improved breakdown operation and Alex Corbisiero led a
The visitors somehow led 9-6 at
half-time then took a firm grip on proceedings by snatching one of the
most fortuitous tries in memory.
Juandre Kruger fumbled near England's
line but, when Ben Youngs tried to kick the ball clear, it ricocheted
off JP Pietersen towards the line, Wood was unable to hold it and Willem
Alberts dropped on it.
Are you sure Owen Farrell remonstrates with Robshaw
Breaking away: Manu Tuilagi skips past Jean de Villiers
Pat Lambie converted for 16-6. Three
penalties by Farrell took England to within a point but the last of
those provided the major talking point and left Robshaw defending himsel
f against accusations of losing composure.
Lancaster backed his captain, saying:
'International sport is tough for people if they make a mistake. You've
got to make sure people are supported.'
Players also spoke up for Robshaw but not even an adherence to the party line could disguise their frustration.
'Chris has the final decision but there are other guys on the field who should be assisting,' said prop Dan Cole.
'Sometimes the right decision is the
quick decision. We live and learn.' England will have to learn fast. In
five days' time they must try to smash the All Black juggernaut off
If composure is lacking again,
Lancaster's side will be heavily beaten and this autumn campaign will be
damned as an abject failure.
Clearing his lines: Ben Youngs gets a kick away despite the attentions of Duane Vermeulen
Locked up: Joe Launchbury is tackled by Gurthro Steenkamp and Duane Vermeulen
HOW THE KEY FINAL MOMENTS UNFOLDED
77min 14sec Referee Nigel Owens signals a penalty pending for England, just outside South Africa’s 22, slightly to the left of the posts, but allows the home team to play an advantage.
77.23 England ’s attack to the right breaks down when Chris Ashton is unable to hold on to Alex Goode’s pass, so Owens blows his whistle to award the penalty. Mike Brown and Danny Care can be seen urgently waving their arms for the ball to be passed rapidly back to the penalty mark.
77.34 Chris Robshaw initially points to the posts, but Owens is looking the other way. The England captain then asks Owens if the clock can be stopped, but the referee says ‘No, I can’t’.
77.43 Robshaw instructs Owen Farrell to kick for goal and the Saracens player indicates that he thinks England should kick to the corner. The skipper over-rules (right) him and orders him to go for the posts.
77.49 The discussion between captain and kicker continues for several more seconds, with Farrell turning round to offer a further observation before he begins to line up the penalty.
77.52 Farrell puts the ball on the turf next to Owens, then turns around once more and makes another comment while clearly shaking his head in frustration at the decision.
78.00 With Farrell still waiting for the kicking tee to be brought on and the crowd booing, an evidently concerned Robshaw approaches Owens again and asks ‘Can I change the call’ The referee says ‘No’ so Robshaw shouts to his kicker ‘Faz, quick! Quick!’.
78.30 Farrell quickly composes himself and finally the ball is struck, through the posts to bring England to within one point at 16-15 down.
79.00 South Africa ’s restart flies towards the touchline on England’s right flank, replacement lock Mouritz Botha attempts to catch the kick but spills the ball and it rolls into touch.
80.14 Having claimed the subsequent lineout and recycled the ball at a ruck, the Springboks drive again, Ruan Pienaar passes out to Francois Hougaard and he kicks the ball into touch to end the game.