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England's final Test against South Africa is Eddie Jones' biggest ever... he must win it to stop the rot

Daily Mail logo Daily Mail 17/06/2018 Joe Strange
Eddie Jones, the England head coach, looks on during the first test match between South Africa and England at Elllis Park on June 9, 2018 in Johannesburg, South Africa. © David Rogers/Getty Images Eddie Jones, the England head coach, looks on during the first test match between South Africa and England at Elllis Park on June 9, 2018 in Johannesburg, South Africa.

It's time for England to smell the coffee and start appreciating what a deep hole they have dug for themselves. This is much more than a dip.

Five Test defeats on the bounce, finishing fifth in the Six Nations and one decent performance all season, against Australia back in October.

This tour presented the perfect opportunity to regain the initiative but they look more at odds than ever. England face Australia, South Africa and New Zealand this autumn and those teams will scent blood. They will arrive hungry and at full strength. Unless England get hold of themselves now, things will get really ugly.

a group of football players posing for a photo: England's players appear dejected following their 23-12 defeat by South Africa on Saturday © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited England's players appear dejected following their 23-12 defeat by South Africa on Saturday a blurry image of a man: England head coach Eddie Jones and his men have suffered five Test defeats on the bounce © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited England head coach Eddie Jones and his men have suffered five Test defeats on the bounce

That is why the third Test in Cape Town is so crucial. Technically it's a dead rubber but, in fact, it's now the most important match of Eddie Jones's England career.

Somehow England have to re-energise and sharpen up mentally. They must stop the rot, otherwise this losing run will hang over them for five months and cast a long shadow over the English game.

Generally, I thought Eddie handled the fall-out on Saturday night pretty well but I did cringe when he started trotting out the line that England were without 25 players. Really? I can only think of two — Anthony Watson and Dylan Hartley — who would have started these Tests while Ben Te'o and Courtney Lawes might have featured at some stage.

a screenshot of a cell phone © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited

That modest 'sick list' is par for the course on an end-of-season tour and England have quality to bring in. The spine of the England team has been unaffected in Ford, Farrell, Daly, Itoje and the Vunipola brothers. Wales took the decision to rest a good number of frontline players and have just played Argentina off the park.

The main reason I cringed was the insensitivity of the comment. England didn't play very well for an hour of that Test on Saturday, but I saw no lack of effort. They were all clearly up for the game.

If I was one of those England players I wouldn't be overly amused about this mythical squadron of 25 top players who may have made all the difference.

a close up of a person: Duane Vermeulen got the South African comeback underway with a try on 24 minutes © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited Duane Vermeulen got the South African comeback underway with a try on 24 minutes a man standing in front of a crowd: Tensions threatened to boil over in Bloemfontein and a scuffle briefly broke out on Saturday © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited Tensions threatened to boil over in Bloemfontein and a scuffle briefly broke out on Saturday

I'd love to be a fly on the wall at England training. I sense a deeply frustrated and increasingly angry squad. That was illustrated by Ben Youngs's unexpected bad temper when interviewed by Sky's Gail Davis shortly after the game. Ben is one of the nicest guys in the game, it was very instructive. 

Joe Marler and Mike Brown also got involved in a heated exchange with South African spectators as they left the pitch. I daresay both were copping a torrent of abuse but it comes with the territory. The players' behaviour suggests that the mindset is currently lost.

a man smiling for the camera: Ben Youngs gave a tame six-second reply before walking out of an interview with Sky Sports © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited Ben Youngs gave a tame six-second reply before walking out of an interview with Sky Sports

During the game, discipline was again lacking. When you see Mako Vunipola slapping somebody on the ground, Itoje aiming a boot at Faf de Klerk and Nathan Hughes getting sent to the bin cheaply it's clearly not all right 'upstairs'.

Players know what's been said in the papers and are reading social media. The reality is some are about to be dropped because Eddie now has to freshen things up. It would be very easy for somebody to break ranks and say something disruptive.

England have to start demanding more of themselves. Who is taking the likes of Mako Vunipola and Nathan Hughes aside and reading them the riot act for their nonsensical penalties?

This is where England are missing Hartley. He calls it as he sees it and has proved a mature character as captain.

Critics are also realising what a rock-solid hooker he is. Jamie George is a fine player but there is a big difference between starting these huge matches and coming on for 20 minutes.

There is too much noise around this England team. Starters, finishers, brain coaches, arguments with the clubs, these 'missing' players, injuries in training sessions. Everything needs to be reined in.

a group of people standing in front of a crowd: South Africa's players celebrate at the final whistle, with Pieter-Steph du Toit raising his arms © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited South Africa's players celebrate at the final whistle, with Pieter-Steph du Toit raising his arms a group of people playing football on a field: England trudge off the pitch at half-time during a disappointing night in Bloemfontein © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited England trudge off the pitch at half-time during a disappointing night in Bloemfontein

An England XV with their core players present should be capable of winning a game anywhere in the world but only if they do the basics right.

Dan Robson and Danny Cipriani now have to start and bring their attacking talents to bear. Cipriani made an instant impact on Saturday and should have come on earlier — now is his time.

Let's get Elliot Daly into the centre alongside Owen Farrell. And if England are going for gas and attacking potential, let's also see what Jason Woodward can offer at full back with Jonny May and Denny Solomona on the wings.

I'm not sure there is the potential for much change up front. With Billy Vuniploa injured again it seems that Nathan Hughes will start at No 8 and he must look on that as a big opportunity. Brad Shields was workmanlike and will get another run and Tom Curry kept going.

Eddie Jones has been in corners before in his coaching career but he has never been in a situation like this. He will be hurting badly and this week will tell us much about Jones and this England team.

Related: England v South Africa player ratings (Read Sport)

England Player Ratings: South Africa (A): England have lost their summer series against South Africa after just two games following a dismal performance in a 23-12 defeat in Bloemfontein.Like in the first match, England stormed into an early lead with tries from Mike Brown and Jonny May but failed to score for the remainder of the game.Duane Vermeulen stormed through the English defence from close range to get the Boks’s first score and a penalty from Handre Pollard meant the home side had a one-point advantage going into the break.Greater accuracy and discipline in second half ensured South Africa remained in control after the break, a penalty try and a further three points via Pollard’s boot ensured the victory.South Africa seem reborn under new head coach Rassie Eramus and their new captain, Siya Kolisi and will be looking for a series whitewash next Saturday in Cape Town after taking a 2-0 lead in the series. Vermeulen was a constant threat with ball in hand and scrum half Faf De Klerk seemed to be everywhere on the pitch, making the most of poor English discipline.For Eddie Jones’s men, it was their fifth consecutive Test Match defeat in a row. A disappointing 42-39 defeat in the first game in Johannesburg and a torrid display here in the second, major changes seem to be needed to address obvious problems in player attitude, too many missed tackles and game management.Here is how I rated the England players… England Player Ratings: South Africa (A)

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