England will learn from World Cup final defeat but it will take time to recover – Matt Dawson column


England’s World Cup final defeat against South Africa was desperately disappointing.

The way England have played at this World Cup and the depth of players they have as a group, this was absolutely the right squad to challenge for the trophy.

England fans will all be feeling totally dejected but nowhere near as upset as the players and management will be.

They were so far off winning that game. There is a weird part of me that, even though I feel totally dejected, does not feel quite as bad as if South Africa had nicked it at the death with a last-minute penalty or drop-goal. England just simply were not good enough.

I never felt for one minute that England were in a position to score points then run away with it. It was going to be a battle to the death and unfortunately the Springboks seemed to be more capable of winning a World Cup final.

England have learned a big lesson. Those players are going to remember that for the rest of their lives and hopefully store it up to say they are never going to feel like that again, never going to make those mistakes under that sort of pressure again and they will come back as better players.

Watch key moments from South Africa’s emphatic win over England

‘England needed to change it up’

England head coach Eddie Jones has had a blinding tournament and, tactically, has been great throughout.

But on this occasion South Africa coach Rassie Erasmus was awesome. Wherever England attacked, the Springboks had defence.

They were very disciplined. They were tactically spot on. They played in the right areas. They had the balance of their kicking game opposed to when it was on to run – they chose the right time and made good decisions.

We have been praising Jones and waxing lyrical about how perfect England’s build-up and preparation has been.

But ironically they lost because they looked like they did not have the ability to adapt on the field when South Africa were not playing the way that England expected.

It is very difficult to change on the field, but it has been a fairly common trait of England sides over the past 10 years of not being able to adapt under that type of pressure.

South Africa were fantastic in the set-piece, scrums and line-outs, and the breakdown. Faf de Klerk was running the show from scrum-half.

England very early on were chasing shadows rather than having a broader view that South Africa were playing in a different way so they needed to change it up.

Unfortunately they tried to play the same way against a team that were just lapping up the contact.

The senior England players should have stood up and realised what they were doing what was not working.

There were some key individuals who needed to stand up in a leadership role under that extreme pressure. In those environments, it really stands out what a difference it makes to have a captain in the forward pack.

Owen Farrell has been a great leader for England but it needed a vice-captain to step in up front, like Kieran Read or Sam Warburton would have done.

‘The Springboks will be heralded as heroes’

Siya Kolisi is South Africa’s first black captain

There are millions of dejected England fans all over the world. Ordinarily, there would be no reason to reflect positively on that type of result.

But, looking at the larger picture that South Africa winning that game paints, I do not think any other final has a bigger political story to tell than this one.

You would have to not have any emotion in your body to look at the picture of Siya Kolisi – South Africa’s first black captain – lifting the trophy and not understand the power of what he and his team have done; what he has done as an individual to effectively change the view of millions of people within sport.

Very few leaders in the world get that opportunity and he has just done it by being him and playing rugby. So there are huge positives to the outcome.

The game of rugby means so much to a lot of people, but on reflection the game has much more of a profound effect on a nation like South Africa than it does anywhere else in the world.

Rugby has done an amazing job and that South Africa team will be quite rightly heralded as heroes for more reasons than just winning a rugby game.

It started when the Springboks won in 1995, shortly after apartheid ended, when Nelson Mandela presented Francois Pienaar with the trophy.

But now, 24 years after that breakthrough, we are still talking about the inequalities that South Africans are trying to fix.

Back in 1995 you might have thought maybe within eight or 12 years, could there be a black captain of South Africa challenging for the trophy? It has taken 24 years.

Let’s hope in another 24 years we are not in a similar predicament. Let’s hope that this game has significantly moved the dial for the country, the politics and all the people that those guys represented today.

What next for Eddie Jones and his team?

Eddie Jones has a contract with England until 2021

People are going to be after Jones now but you cannot get away from the fact that he has done a magnificent job with that England team.

He has taken them to the brink of world domination. They have had a bad day at the office.

But one bad day compared to the many weeks of success he has brought to this England side means he should be congratulated and praised for what he has done.

Since he became coach in 2015, Jones has turned England from a team that could not get out of their pool at a home World Cup to a team that were in the final four years later.

So the time is right to give Jones a pat on the back and let him enjoy a few beers.

A lot of those players are going to be around in four years’ time. Hopefully, Jones will stick around and help in some way so England can progress even further.

Maro Itoje made 16 tackles in the World Cup final against South Africa

It is going to be a strange feeling for the players getting back home and understanding the euphoria that was going on back in the UK.

You have to get back into your club jersey and it is not quite as intense and a very different environment.

The players are going to make sure that they focus on all the positives collectively and that they keep themselves fit.

There is a danger that they get frustrated and go straight into the club season and pick up injuries.

Then if the Six Nations does not go well, it spirals instead of giving them rest and looking after them because they have been maxed out.

Whatever happens, it is going to be a while until the England players can pick themselves back up after this.

Matt Dawson was speaking to BBC Sport’s Becky Grey.


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