England must use Saturday’s win over South Africa as a stepping stone to the next level says Danny Care.
“It was an incredibly exciting performance but, without putting a dampener on it, they could easily have lost,” Care told Rugby Union Weekly.
“It is key we don’t go over the top now, there is a lot of growth to be done in this team.”
England’s last home meeting with South Africa, in November 2018, also ended with a single-point winning margin for the hosts, but the Springboks were far stronger in a 32-12 victory in the Rugby World Cup final 12 months later.
“England could very easily have lost that game,” said Care, who won the last of his 84 England caps in 2018, of the teams’ latest meeting.
“Handre Pollard doesn’t usually miss the kicks he did, Frans Steyn’s drop-goaI was only just wide, we could easily be sat here after South Africa won by five or six points.”
However, if the result could have easily been different, Care says there was plenty in the performance to build on in next year’s Six Nations and, ultimately, the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
England’s backline on Saturday was without the injured Owen Farrell, the omitted George Ford and, for all but the opening eight minutes, the replaced Manu Tuilagi.
However fly-half Marcus Smith, centre Henry Slade and full-back Freddie Steward – a backline trio dubbed England’s ‘S Club’ – helped steer Eddie Jones’ side to victory.
“I couldn’t be more impressed with Freddie Steward,” said Care “If anyone has ever laid claim on a shirt for the next 10 years its him. I can’t see anyone ousting him because he does everything at full-back.
“Since Mike Brown I don’t think there has been a guy who you feel comfortable [with], who, when the kick goes up, is going to win the air and the ball. With Steward you know he is taking it every time.
“And I thought Slade was brilliant. From playing with him, he can go quiet in an environment in which Owen and George are running the attack and with them not there he really stepped up.
“I love that combination of Smith and Slade – two ball players in the backline.”
Fellow Rugby Union Weekly host and former England and British and Irish Lions wing Ugo Monye said Smith’s performances over the autumn showed that there is steel to his game as well as an extensive showreel of more spectacular highlights.
“What a job from Marcus Smith at 10,” said Monye.
“I think there was an expectation that Marcus was going to play like a Harlem Globetrotter but what people have appreciated about his game now is that he has the bottle to control a game.
“He is 12 from 12 this autumn off the tee, he hasn’t missed a kick at goal, that is what makes an international fly-half.”