Lancaster looking for some morale-boosting displays

 

ENGLISH RUGBY has not had a great week. Their senior team was well beaten in the first Test in Durban, the next generation were unceremoniously brushed aside by South Africa at the Under-20 World Cup and the midweekers struggled for rhythm and breath in Kimberley.

A decent second Test display at Ellis Park is badly needed to sidestep a morale-sapping series defeat and bolster some sagging reputations. At 5,700ft above sea level it will be desperately tough but the tour management may learn more about their players’ characters in the next eight days than in an entire season of Six Nations games. It is worth revisiting the words of Mike Catt, England’s interim backs coach, before the squad departed for South Africa. “It’s about showing Stuart Lancaster they want to be in the squad for 2015. It’s about who can and who can’t take what’s coming.”

So far disappointingly few hands have shot up into the clear African sky. Lancaster will expect a more positive response today.

In his own mind he wants to identify the vast majority of his 2015 squad by July 2013, leaving him two years in which to mould a tight, focused band of brothers into potential champions. Next summer’s Lions tour will inevitably complicate that process, increasing the significance of the remaining six Tests in 2012. For a few individuals on this tour the clock is already ticking.

It is interesting, for example, that the uncapped Thomas Waldrom rather than James Haskell has been promoted to the bench after Northampton’s Phil Dowson tweaked a hamstring in training. The management privately felt Haskell opted for contact too often in Kimberley rather than seeking out space and have reacted accordingly. Haskell, in common with Owen Farrell, is already finding the head coach’s affable exterior masks a no-nonsense streak.

Ben Youngs and Ben Morgan will also have been quietly reminded that more is required. Two years ago Youngs was giving Australia’s scrumhalf Will Genia the runaround at Twickenham; for whatever reason Genia is now the more influential, electric presence at the highest level. Morgan, for his part, is a prominent cog in England’s future but cannot yet be hailed as the northern hemisphere’s answer to the All Blacks’ Kieran Read.

England also urgently need to identify their best option at outhalf for 2015, someone capable of shaping a game rather than reacting hastily to events.

SOUTH AFRICA: P Lambie; J P Pietersen, J de Villiers (capt), F Steyn, B Habana; M Steyn, F Hougaard; T Mtawarira, B du Plessis, J du Plessis, E Etzebeth, J Kruger, M Coetzee, W Alberts, P Spies. Replacements: A Strauss, W Kruger, F van der Merwe, K Daniel, R Pienaar, W Olivier, B Basson.

ENGLAND: B Foden; C Ashton, J Joseph, M Tuilagi, D Strettle; T Flood, B Youngs; J Marler, D Hartley, D Cole, M Botha, G Parling, T Johnson, C Robshaw (capt), B Morgan. Replacements: L Mears, A Corbisiero, T Palmer, P Dowson, T Waldrom, O Farrell, A Goode.

Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland).

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