Jonny May has revealed that England have been soul-searching over the recurring indiscipline that has sent results into freefall.
South Africa won the opening instalment of their three-Test series in a 42-39 victory at Ellis Park that exposed all-too familiar flaws in the performance of Eddie Jones’ men that first surfaced during a troubled Six Nations.
A penalty count of 17 played into the Springboks’ hands and while error-prone work at the breakdown also led to their collapse, it is the attention of referees that is contributing most to their five-match losing run.
May, the Leicester wing who scored a brilliant solo try in Johannesburg, has revealed that Monday’s team meeting was dominated by one subject – how to avoid being whistled out of contention.
“It’s the chaos theory – one small action can have a huge impact later on in the game,” May said.
“You might just think it’s a silly penalty but it can change the game, especially when you give away back-to-back penalties. That’s a killer.
South Africa vs England
June 16, 2018, 4:00pm
Get Sky Sports Get a Sky Sports pass
“We have spoken about discipline before, it isn’t like it’s been brushed over. In the Six Nations it killed us. And it was as bad as ever at the weekend.
“Hopefully we have realised – we should have realised by now – the impact one penalty has on the momentum of a game, let along back-to-back penalties.
“It really does have a huge impact. It’s like the ‘butterfly effect’. You think ‘oh one little penalty here’…
“We looked back at the Ireland game in the Six Nations. Owen on a kick chase took Johnny Sexton out. Penalty. Boom, line-out penalty. Boom, high ball, try.
“One penalty can really get a team going. It’s such a frustrating one because we don’t want to be giving away penalties. We know better than that. But at the moment hands up, it’s on us, because it’s not good enough.
“We are guilty of the same things, it’s frustrating sitting here saying the same things again, but we didn’t adapt and learn quick enough on the pitch.”
England’s plans for the second Test in Bloemfontein are being disrupted by the increasing likelihood that Joe Launchbury will be ruled out for second match.
The Wasps lock is suffering from a calf injury and was again unable to train on Tuesday, leaving Wednesday’s crucial double session as the final opportunity to prove his fitness before the team announcement 24 hours later.
If he fails to pull through then Kiwi Brad Shields is almost certain to start at Free State Stadium, partnering Maro Itoje in the second row after Nick Isiekwe was substituted before half time the first Test.
Shields, who qualifies for England through his parents, has not played in the second row for the last four years for his Super Rugby team the Hurricanes but England insist they will not be summoning cover for the position to South Africa.
“We feel with Brad that we have got lock cover and we’ve looked at all the eventualities that we have sufficient cover in that position,” scrum coach Neal Hatley said.