ENGLAND (11) v/s SOUTH AFRICA (21)
WORLD CUP winning coach Sir Clive Woodward has declared England’s autumn campaign a success despite the team ending their year by being outmuscled by South Africa.
Martin Johnson’s emerging side failed to maintain the momentum of an encouraging November on Saturday as the grizzled Springboks taught them a lesson at Twickenham.
But Woodward has seen enough improvements during the Investec Internationals to be convinced that Johnson has moulded the nucleus of a winning outfit.
And the man who plotted World Cup success in 2003 is predicting that England will be strong contenders for the trophy next year in New Zealand.
“I think 2011 could be a very exciting year for English rugby,” said Woodward. “He is getting it right. The RFU [Rugby Football Union] have done a good job backing him.
“He has been through a pretty tough time when he has not had lots of high-quality players around. Now he has some young players coming through on merit and he has something to really build on.”
Woodward is particularly encouraged by the fact that, after a tenure characterised by chopping and changing, Johnson has settled on a preferred line-up.
“For the first time since Martin has been there he has five or six players we can all definitely name,” he added. “For the first time you can say the England team is moving forward and you build it around players you can ink in. The positives far outweigh the negatives over the four games. It is all looking good.”
Northampton full-back Ben Foden, one of a clutch of young Premiership players to seize their chance this year, pounced on an interception to score a late try.
It proved nothing more than a consolation effort, however, with Willem Alberts and Lwazi Mvovo having crossed already to underline the superiority of South Africa, who dominated despite being without stars Bryan Habana, Fourie du Preez, Schalk Burger and John Smit.
Woodward, however, points to the watershed victory over Australia, who thrashed France at the weekend, as hard evidence that England have become a top side.
“[Australia’s] Robbie Deans is one of the outstanding coaches in world rugby. They are an outstanding team,” he said.
“That game showed England play in a way that I haven’t seen England play in a long, long time. Everything they tried went well.”