England manager Martin Johnson called on his team to become more adaptable after watching South Africa halt their resurgence in a bruising encounter at Twickenham.
England earned plaudits for their free-flowing demolition job on Australia earlier this month, but their open approach foundered on a rock-solid South Africa side who outmuscled Johnson’s men in a 21-11 victory.
Johnson said while his side could draw positives from an autumn series that yielded wins over the Wallabies and Samoa and defeats to New Zealand and the Springboks, they were a long way from reaching their potential.
“You beat Australia and every one wants to call you the next great thing,” Johnson said. “But we have to understand how to play Test rugby in all its forms. It’s not always going to be like the Australia game.
“It’s doing the right thing every time and getting it right every time – you won’t always get it but that’s what we need to aim for.”
Johnson, however, was encouraged by the progress made by his team, saying the core of youngsters would be better for the experience.
“The progression of this team is hugely upwards. There’s no doubt about that,” Johnson said, paying tribute to the way his side kept South Africa at bay during relentless first-half pressure from the Springboks.
“We didn’t concede a try – we kept them out. I don’t think we would have done that at the start of this series, let alone a year ago,” Johnson said. “We just have to be smarter.
“We’ve done a huge amount of good stuff in this series. The guys will come away from every game knowing that, win or lose, they can go and compete and play with these teams.
“They’re disappointed with what they’ve done today and right now we’re pretty glum. But I think when we come together on Monday and start thinking about it in terms of the future there’s lots and lots of good things come out.
“With all these young guys, almost whatever happens on the field they will get better from it.”
Nevertheless Johnson blamed a high error count for his team’s failure to put the Springboks under sustained pressure at Twickenham.
“Test match rugby is pretty basic and pretty simple, but you have to execute the fundamentals under pressure,” Johnson said.
“If you make the mistakes that we made – and they were all over the field – you invite pressure back on yourself and that’s what Test rugby’s all about.
“Do we have to go through that experience that to understand that? Maybe we do. We seemed to compound errors with errors. And if you do that at this level you’ll give them shots and opportunities.”