England to feed off the anguish of near-misses

England forwards chief Graham Rowntree last night said he is sick and tired of hearing coaches lament their side is “learning”.

Obviously, it is something which Red Rose chief Stuart Lancaster has alluded to himself with regards the development of a young side which is still finding its feet in the international arena.

However, as England today look to end a 10-match winless sequence against South Africa, Rowntree concedes the mantra is fact-based and mistakes will still be made.

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That aside, the ex-Leicester 
Tigers prop is adamant this England team can still respond to last week’s disappointing 20-14 loss against Australia and breathe new life into their autumn international series.

“I bloody hate hearing these coaches on the back of a defeat saying ‘we’re learning’ but the fact is we are still a very young group,” Rowntree said.

“What really pleases me is that at the end of every game, we’re in it, we’re forcing the pace.

“We haven’t beaten this nation for a while. We’ve got them again, at Twickenham on Saturday, on the back of a really frustrating defeat.

“There’s a lot of energy there for us to thrive upon.”

While the odds are stacked against England – who have made six changes to their starting line-up – Rowntree knows all about triumphing against the might of South Africa in the face of adversity.

He was a player on the famous British Lions tour to the Rainbow Nation in 1997, savouring a series victory in the midst of intense pressure.

He has urged for a similar show of passion and defiance this afternoon in order to bring the Springboks to their knees once more.

Their last victory against them was in the autumn of 2006 but they go into this encounter driven on by two near-misses.

Rowntree felt England should have beaten Australia last week and they might also have defeated the Springboks in the third Test of the summer tour, which ended in a 14-14 draw in Port Elizabeth.

“We are still hurting from last week. We lost and we are not happy about it. It was a game we should have won,” he said.

“That last game in Port Elizabeth was also a game we should have won. We had lost two Tests on that tour. In that last hour before the game in Port Elizabeth we decided that wasn’t going to happen again.

“And we have to recreate that atmosphere on Saturday, that pure desire for it not to be a defeat again.

“You bank up defeats and frustrations and we seem to have done that over the last half-dozen games – and that has got to come out in a positive performance.”

England’s win against Fiji on the opening weekend of the autumn internationals was their only victory in five Tests since the end of the RBS Six Nations championship.

Head coach Lancaster said at the outset of the autumn series that the time had come for England to deliver against the might of the southern hemisphere.

He had called it, perhaps a touch prematurely for a young team, “production time”.

England had their chances to win last week and should have taken them, but for long periods they were outplayed by an Australia side that were too smart and too savvy.

The South African challenge will be different and England know what to expect.

The Springbok game is based on ferocious forward power, with Ruan Pienaar and Patrick Lambie pulling the strings behind.

The challenge for England is dealing with it. They failed in the first two Tests of the summer tour, but Port Elizabeth is their reference point.

England ratcheted up the ferocity in that final Test and went toe-to-toe with the Springboks to end a run of nine straight defeats in the fixture.

If they needed any further encouragement it has come from their opponents themselves.

It may only be mind-games on his part, but South Africa hooker Schalk Brits feels Lancaster’s young side will grow into the best England team of all time, even usurping the 2003 World Cup winners.

He knows the game here well having been consistently one of the outstanding players in the Aviva Premiership since his move to Saracens in 2009, helping them to their title success in 2011.

The 31-year-old hooker plays his club rugby alongside the likes of England backs Owen Farrell, Brad Barritt and Chris Ashton – “a unique player” – and he spent three years being coached by England’s current assistant Andy Farrell.

Brits can understand why Farrell senior left Saracens to become part of the national set-up, because he believes the Springboks will face an England team on the path to greatness.

“You can’t make miracles from day one,” Brits said, when asked about England’s defeat to Australia last week.

“They have the right coaches, the right set-up and very good players.

“They have come together as a very young squad but they are building caps and that is what they need.

“This England squad can be the best ever. They can match the 2003 squad.

“I think the 2015 World Cup is realistic. If they stick to their guns and play the way they can play, I can’t see them not becoming a great squad.”