Johnson had started three uncapped players in the opening Castle Lager Test Series match in King’s Park, and another three came off the bench. One, hooker Pat MacArthur, is already ruled out of the tour after suffering a knee injury trying to stop the Samoan juggernaut Alesana Tuilagi, who scored two tries, while captain Kelly Brown (ankle) and Euan Murray (hamstring) are both doubtful for next week’s game against South Africa.
Asked whether he was embarrassed by the defeat, Johnson replied: “I’m not embarrassed. That is not the right word, but I am disappointed by the fact that it was a Test match and you have to win the contact battles to win a Test, and we didn’t.
“It is a collision problem. There was some great defence but all their tries came on the back of one-on-one tackles that were missed – bad positioning or one-on-one missed tackles. If you lose them against a side like that, you are in trouble.
“I have said many times that great attack usually comes on the back of great defence because it is the best place to attack off because it is unstructured, and we were not good enough in that area and were punished.
“This was the first Test for a few and a lot of them were inexperienced. A Test is a test of may things, skill and character included. Some found out today what it is like to jump up, but I was in Australia when England sent out a so-called second string [a 1998 team featuring Jonny Wilkinson] that spawned the World Cup-winning team. Careers start in funny ways: that was a big test for them tonight but it was good for that.
“I can sit here and tell you a multitude of things that went wrong, but the fact is that we have to get certain areas right and acknowledge what they are. We have to accept that the tackle area is the area we have to get right. Much is said about the Springboks, the Australians, All Blacks or the England team that won World Cups. They were all good teams in many ways but they had one thing in common: they were pretty good at the area I am talking about.”
Scrum-half Greig Laidlaw fought tirelessly, as usual, to lead his side forward, and he was a picture of misery at the final whistle.
“The first 20 minutes killed us,” he said. “We gave them two easy scores and defended poorly as a team and that has cost us dearly. It cost us the game.
“It was no shock, we knew what was coming but never dealt with it. We put ourselves under pressure by missing tackles and if you do that, and give them quick ball it is hard to defend – it becomes a vicious cycle.”
And the challenge only steepens now with the Springboks, winners over Italy yesterday, next up in Nelspruit.
Laidlaw insisted: “It should be an easy fix – we have to get stuck in more. We are facing the second best team in the world on their own turf so if we don’t show up again we will come off second by a long, long way.
“You can only play what is in front of you and we have South Africa next up, which will be a massive test after that performance. We need to pick ourselves up and come again for South Africa.”