ANOTHER chance to beat the Springboks gone and yet more questions rather than answers for a frustrated England coach Stuart Lancaster.
It is now a dozen games stretching back to 2006 since the Red Rose last triumphed over South Africa. They have made a habit of getting so close only to be eluded.
They were at it again this afternoon as they strived to end that annoying record but, in fairness, they did not truly deserve to win this given the raft of often rudimentary mistakes that blighted their performance.
Disjointed England looked in complete dire straits when a brilliant converted try from Cobus Reinach just 44 seconds into the second half put the Spingboks - vowing to respond after a surprise loss to Ireland last week - 20-6 ahead.
Lancaster’s side had been dire in the first period despite dominating territory and that early blow - orchestrated by fly-half Pat Lambie’s clever midfield chip gathered on the full by the excellent Willie le Roux - was the last thing they needed.
However, veteran Springbok Victor Matfield was yellow carded for collapsing a line-out soon after and the hosts suddenly roused from their malaise with two terrific efforts courtesy of that old, traditional weapon of the English game - the driving maul.
Prop David Wilson benefitted from the first on 46 minutes as the England pack arced all the way infield to the posts and then, just two minutes later after a touch judge incorrectly ruled Bryan Habana had taken Owen Farrell’s kick out of play, they surged over again.
This time it was Ben Morgan, the No8 only just on as a replacement for the ineffectual Billy Vuniploa, who twisted off the back and barged through Jannie du Plessis after England had stormed up field.
Farrell converted both to level the game 20-20 but, inexplicably, the hosts conceded in similar circumstances when still facing just 14 men.
Man-of-the-match Shchalk Burger emerged with the ball as the Springboks embarrassed England’s pack and, though Lambie missed the conversion and then touch after Dylan Hartley was yellow-carded for stamping on the hour, the erratic home side had no response.
Brad Barritt scored a well-worked try in the 79th minute as they finally found some cohesion again for George Ford to convert but, typically, when keeping the ball alive attempting to force the crucial score, there was yet another handling error.
It means, worryingly, England have now lost five successive games and Lancaster - who gave all but one of his players (Anthony Watson debuted in place of the injured Semesa Rokoduguni) a second chance after last week’s 24-21 loss to the All Blacks - has plenty to ponder.
Few here guaranteed their spot for Australia in a fortnight’s time and, instead, plenty of fringe players must surely get a chance to face Samoa and force their way to the front of the coach’s thoughts.
England - who continue to struggle against the might of the southern hemisphere - blustered their way through the first half.
Despite having 73 per cent territory they did little, if anything, with it given and continually frittered away possession in the rain, Vunipola having a particularly turgid 40 minutes.
Hesitant and unsure, they were never able to gain any momentum and, instead, it was the visitors who picked their pockets to take a 13-6 interval lead.
Danny Care, who led England out ahead of his 50th Test appearance, saw a routine pass intercepted for Jan Serfontein to race in from 60m untouched in the 16th minute and Lambie converted and kicked two penalties.
All England could manage was two penalties from Farrell, whose place at fly-half is now under threat from Ford looking ahead to the 2015 World Cup.
Lambie added another in the 66th minute and, though Ford pulled one back, the ‘Boks 10 slotted a drop goal to ease any lingering pressure.
England: Brown; Watson, Barritt, Eastmond, May; Farrell (Ford 65), Care (Youngs 65); Marler (Mullan 66), Hartley, Wilson (Brookes 72), Attwood (Kruis 66), Lawes, Wood (Webber 60), Robshaw, Vunipola (Morgan 44)
South Africa: le Roux; Pietersen, Serfontein, de Villiers, Habana; Lambie, Reinach; Mtawarira (Nyakane 74), Strauss (B du Plessis 60), J du Plessis (Oosthuizen 65), Etzebeth (Botha 65), Matfield, Coetzee, Burger (Mohoje 77), Vermeulen.