England 11 - 21 South Africa: Martin Johnson insists England 'team' on right road despite Springbok reverse

Martin Johnson is undaunted in the belief that his England side are travelling in the right direction despite a mauling by South Africa at Twickenham.

For long periods England struggled to cope with the physicality of the Springboks in a 21-11 defeat on Saturday which left them reflecting on two wins, against Australia and Samoa, and two losses, against New Zealand and South Africa, during the autumn series.

Yet Johnson insists England are no longer a collection of individuals, but "a team" ready to embark on a "hell of a Six Nations" tournament in little more than two months time.

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Johnson saw Willem Alberts and Lwazi Mvovo score second-half tries which claimed a deserved win for the Springboks which would have been more emphatic but for a fortunate late interception try by England full-back Ben Foden.

But, while Johnson rued the errors which littered England's game, his optimism for the future was undimmed. Johnson said: "We're far better for getting through a Test series. It's a learning experience emotionally, controlling the ups and downs and dealing with the intensity for some of the guys, and they have done it very well really.

"We do expect more. We set our standards and we did not meet those clearly. But we are playing good teams. You make mistakes and errors and people get injured and you get penalised and you disagree and all these things, but you have to overcome them.."

England were disrupted on Saturday by an early injury to wing Chris Ashton when he collided with Springbok captain Victor Matfield and the sight of fly-half Toby Flood and flanker Tom Croft leaving the field with head and shoulder injuries respectively.

Basic errors, however, compromised a game plan which appeared to be to take the game to South Africa as adventurously as they had done against Australia, but the world champions proved far more resilient, balancing the running, kicking and physical aspects of their game with aplomb.

"We let them off the hook too easily," added Johnson. "But they are a good team."

England's coaches will meet up early next week to assess the autumn matches, and the squad will spend a week in Portugal towards the end of January in preparation for the Six Nations - and their opening Friday night encounter with Wales in Cardiff.

Johnson said: "Scotland have beaten South Africa. We've beaten the Australians. Ireland and Wales have been there or thereabouts so the Six Nations should be a hell of a tournament."

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Scorers: England: Try: Foden. Pens: Flood 2. South Africa: Tries: Alberts, Mvovo. Con: M Steyn. Pens: M Steyn 3

England: Foden; Ashton, Tindall, Hape, Cueto; Flood, Youngs; Sheridan, Hartley, Cole, Lawes, Palmer, Croft, Moody, Easter.Replacements: Banahan for Ashton (72), Hodgson for Flood (34), Care for Youngs (62), Thompson for Hartley (73), Wilson for Cole (68), Shaw for Lawes (68), Fourie for Croft (22).

South Africa: Kirchner; Aplon, F Steyn, De Villiers, Mvovo; M Steyn, Pienaar; Mtawarira, B du Plessis, J du Plessis, Botha, Matfield, Stegmann, Smith, Spies. Replacements: Jacobs for Kirchner (47), Lambie for Aplon (80), Hougaard for de Villiers (79), Strauss for B du Plessis (79), Van der Linde for J du Plessis (53), Van der Merwe for Botha (67), Alberts for Stegmann (48).

Referee: G Clancey (Ireland).

Attendance: 80,793