England captain Chris Robshaw bemoaned the fact his side had to play catch up as they slumped to a fifth defeat on the bounce, losing 31-28 to South Africa at Twickenham.
The Springboks seized control early on, with tries from Jan Serfontein and Cobus Reinach giving them a 20-6 lead just after the interval. Although Robshaw's pack muscled England back into the contest with tries from David Wilson and Ben Morgan off the back of driving mauls, South Africa kept them at arm's length with a touchdown from Schalk Burger before Brad Barritt closed the gap in the dying moments.
“I think we were a bit reactive today, we allowed them to get ahead of us and then we had to play catch up,” he told Sky Sports 1. “We had a brilliant patch out there where we got two driving mauls going but unfortunately we allowed them to get their driving maul going too.
“It’s tough to take, especially at home, but we’ll have to work hard and come back next week.”
After the 3-0 series whitewash in New Zealand in the summer and the 24-21 defeat to the All Blacks last week it now means they have suffered a fifth successive defeat for the first time since 2006 — which was also the last year they managed to beat South Africa, who are now unbeaten in 12 matches against England.
Like last week against the All Blacks England’s set piece worked well, with two tries coming from lineouts, and the scrum was also strong, but Robshaw just feels his side are falling just short of what they are capable of.
“We are probably not doing ourselves justice,” he added. “We all know the way we train and the way we want to play and we haven’t put it on the pitch as well as we would have liked.”
Former England head coach Clive Woodward highlighted the backs as a problem for current incumbent Stuart Lancaster. He said: "The forward pack is doing really well. The front five, the scrums, the lineout, all the traditional strengths of English rugby are going well.
“It’s outside of that I just don’t think we are quick enough and we’re certainly not playing enough real footballers in the backs division to take on Australia, South Africa and New Zealand — which has to be the goal.”
Lancaster defended his side when asked what needs to happen for them to do more with the territory and possession provided by the forwards, highlighting the try scored towards the end of the game when the ball was shifted well through the hands for Barritt to dot down.
“We took a good try at the end, obviously we created pressure but we put ourselves under pressure really, for me, in the first half going 13-6 down when for me we should have been ahead really.”
During that strong finish England had substitutes George Ford and Ben Youngs occupying the halfback roles in place of starters Owen Farrell and Danny Care.
Care, making his 50th international appearance, in particular had a tough day after his poor pass was intercepted to allow Serfontein to go clean through early on. Although Lancaster confirmed he would make changes to the team for the clash against Samoa next week he refused to give any hints about what he was planning.
“I think these games are about learning which players can and can’t deliver at the highest level and these two games have been pretty revealing in that respect,” he added.
“And in my mind I’ve already made my changes for next week and I’m sure we’ll do that.”
Amid England's current struggles it was overlooked by many that the Springboks were also a wounded animal out for revenge after they slumped to a 29-15 defeat against Ireland last week.
South Africa skipper Jean De Villiers was relieved to see his side come out on top after a “tough” battle. But he was quick to praise the role England played in the QBE International and felt his side scored at key moments in the game to tip the balance in their favour.
“We probably got points on the board at the right times, we left a lot out there, but we could have conceded a couple more,” he said. “It was definitely not the perfect game once again, but you got to give credit to our opposition and you can only play as well as they allow you to.”