Wayne Smith is the man to halt dull England’s fall into mediocrity

Freddie Steward, Owen Farrell and Luke Cowan-Dickie of England after their loss to the Springboks. Picture: STUFF SPORTS.

England kicked long. It was the 32nd minute, and they had been kicking with too much length and insufficient height for much of the initial half-hour. The plan was to pummel the masterly Springbok full back (cum-centre, cum-fly half) Willie le Roux.

On this occasion they found the fast-improving South Africa fly half, Damian Willemse. He linked with Le Roux, who was looping around him to create space outside. Kurt-Lee Arendse stayed wide to receive the pass. Poor Marcus Smith didn’t have a prayer as the wing turned the covering Harlequin inside out. Shades of Cheslin Kolbe bamboozling Owen Farrell in the 2019 final. It was a gorgeous score in the midst of a typically powerful performance from the Springbok pack.

There’s not much size to this wisp of a wing but when you have his instincts and speed, who needs to be a hulking brute? He epitomises the ever-accelerating development of South Africa. A willingness to push their limits past the level of their 2019 World Cup triumph. They have left the dire British & Irish Lions series behind.

In the process, they have rejuvenated themselves. They lost narrowly to Ireland and France and crushed an Italy team that had beaten Australia a week earlier. The definitive destruction of England, on top of two high-quality performances in defeat against the world’s top two teams, sends them back home as major contenders for 2023.

England are the opposite. Development is a throwaway word. The series victory in Australia salvaged Eddie Jones from utter ignominy this calendar year. Two wins from five was a feeble return from the 2022 Six Nations. The draw with New Zealand was a one-in-a-hundred recovery, while the loss to Argentina epitomised their fall towards international mediocrity.

On Sunday (NZT) Australia rallied to beat Wales but they remain a team of wildly fluctuating moods. The summer series win was no epic triumph in the nature of Ireland’s win in New Zealand. Andy Farrell’s team continue to stretch away from their old rivals, as do France. Five wins, a draw and six defeats is a pathetic return for England. “We are not far away,” Jones said. He is kidding himself. He is definitely kidding his employers. It takes religious faith to believe in his ever-narrowing, conservative vision.

South Africa are surging clear of England because of their courage to implement fresh blood. Take the situation on the wing. England selected Jonny May, a struggling player with a recent history of niggles, and Jack Nowell, Exeter’s energetic but plainly blunt presence. Neither man would have conceived, let alone finished South Africa’s spectacular score.

Yet there are options. The most dazzling finisher in the Premiership is Cadan Murley. Selected in the wider squad, he has been nowhere near the 23 for any of these internationals. And he is not the only winger. Adam Radwan scored the sort of silky try from distance against Gloucester that only someone with genuine sprinter speed could manage.

One year out from the World Cup and Jones didn’t mention the duo in dispatches. South Africa have a talent of great potential in Kurt-Lee Arendse. They have a management with the courage to look beyond the comfort zone of the tried and tested.

“Eleven months is a long time,” Jones said, after the match, in regard to the World Cup. It certainly is for England fans with nothing but empty promises and original excuses. But he is right. Eleven months is sufficient time for the RFU to show courage and seek someone looking ahead to the future, rather than backwards.

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