Johnson: ‘team moving in the right direction’

England 11 South Africa 21

For long periods England struggled to cope with the physicality of the Springboks in a 21-11 defeat on Saturday which left them reflecting on two wins, against Australia and Samoa, and two losses, against New Zealand and South Africa, during the autumn series.

Yet Johnson insists England are no longer a collection of individuals, but “a team” ready to embark on a “hell of a Six Nations” tournament in little more than two months’ time.

Johnson saw Willem Alberts and Lwazi Mvovo score second-half tries and claim a deserved win for the Springboks, which would have been even more emphatic but for a fortunate late intercept try by England full-back Ben Foden.

But, while Johnson rued the errors which littered England’s game, his optimism for the future was undimmed.

“We’re far better for getting through a Test series,” he said. “It’s a learning experience emotionally, controlling the ups and downs and dealing with the intensity for some of the guys and they have done it very well.

“We do expect more. We set our standards and we clearly did not meet those, but we are playing good teams. You make mistakes and errors and people get injured, you get penalised and you disagree, but you have to overcome these things.

“The team’s going in the right direction, we can be a pretty good team but consistency is the key. Everyone in the autumn series, with the exception of the All Blacks, has been a bit up and down. Good Test teams go out and are difficult to beat every week.”

World champions South Africa, whose tour has seen two players sent home for a failed drugs test proved resilient, balancing the running, kicking and physical aspects of their game.

“We let them off the hook too easily, but they are a good team,” Johnson added. “They defended strongly. They are strong in the set piece, they have been around the block and their kicking game was good. A couple of key kicks pinned us back, we couldn’t get out and they made the difference.”

England’s coaches will meet up early next week to assess the autumn matches and the squad will spend a week in Portugal towards the end of January in preparation for the Six Nations.

“Scotland have beaten South Africa. We’ve beaten the Australians. Ireland and Wales have been there or thereabouts, so the Six Nations should be a hell of a tournament,” Johnson concluded.

Scorers for England: Try: Foden. Pens: Flood 2.

ENGLAND: B Foden; C Ashton, M Tindall, S Hape, M Cueto; T. Flood, B Youngs; A Sheridan, D Hartley, D Cole; C Lawes, T Palmer; T Croft, L. Moody, N Easter.

Replacements: H Fourie for Croft (22), C Hodgson for Flood (34), D Care for Youngs (62), D Wilson for Cole (68), S Shaw for Lawes (68), M Banahan for Ashton (72), S Thompson for Hartley (73).

Scorers for South Africa: Tries: Alberts, Mvovo. Con: M Steyn. Pens: M Steyn 3.

SOUTH AFRICA: Z Kirchner; G Aplon, F Steyn, J de Villiers, L Mvovo; M Steyn, R Pienaar; T Mtawarira, B du Plessis, J du Plessis; B Botha, V Matfield; D Stegmann, J Smith, P Spies.

Replacements: A Jacobs for Kirchner (47), W Alberts for Stegmann (48), CJ van der Linde for J du Plessis (53), F van der Merwe for Botha (67), A Strauss for B du Plessis (79), F Hougaard for de Villiers (79), P Lambie for Aplon (80), W Alberts for Stegmann (48).

Attendance: 80,793

Referee: George Clancey (RFU).

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