England can give All Blacks a good fight, says Farrell
Defiant assistant coach insists the side are in a 'great place' despite two consecutive defeats
England assistant coach Andy Farrell has insisted the side are in a "great place" as they prepare to face world champions New Zealand on the back of defeats by Australia and South Africa.
Saturday's 16-15 loss to the Springboks followed the previous week's 20-14 reverse against the Wallabies and left England still looking for a first win against one of the old Tri-Nations under coach Stuart Lancaster.
The omens for England as they return to Twickenham to complete their European autumn campaign are not too encouraging.
New Zealand, following their 33-10 win over Wales in Cardiff last weekend, are on a 20-match unbeaten run and the All Blacks have won their last nine tests against England.
Yet Farrell was adamant that England were the better team against the Springboks, having certainly more than matched South Africa up front.
"I have said absolutely nothing [to lift the players]," Farrell said. "They are in a great place. They have played against two very good teams and the reality of the South Africa game was that we were the best team.
"You can't not be in a good place when you review the game in its entirety.
"There were a couple of places we would like to improve but in the [wet] conditions and in the circumstances we were taking the game to a side who were in good form and had won games recently at a canter.
"We were piling on the pressure and making inroads. Of course there were errors because of the conditions but they made errors, too. We were pushing right to the end."
Former dual code international Farrell added: "You play like that against the second best team in the world and you almost win. Sometimes you win these tight games, sometimes you lose.
"If we produce the same intensity and the same intent, you would like to think you will be in any type of test match."
But if England's forward play, a shaky line-out excepted, gave their fans grounds for optimism, long-standing worries over the effectiveness of their backs again provided cause for concern.
Although conditions were far from conducive to a handling game, the lack of passes to players on the run, as opposed to taking the ball from an all but standing start, and the absence of wit in trying to break down a resolute Springbok defence were familiar failings.
Meanwhile the fact a rare counter-attack by Chris Ashton, which could have led to a try on a day when England did not cross South Africa's line, was spoilt by the wing's poor pass added to the frustrations of the Twickenham faithful.
England have struggled to find a reliable midfield playmaker since the retirement of 2003 World Cup winner Will Greenwood and the current centre combination of Brad Barritt and Manu Tuilagi, while not lacking for physical power, appears short on guile.
However, Farrell made the point that another problem that has often plagued England - an inability to generate quick ball - explained the lack of attacking threat against the Springboks.
"The rucks against South Africa were so slow that defences were so on top. It is going to be difficult to play any decent attacking game in those conditions," Farrell said.
"But we took the game to them and in broken play we looked dangerous. We were the ones making 50 or 60-metre breaks and we were the ones looking dangerous."
If England found quick ball tough to come by against the Springboks, the chances are it will be even tougher against a New Zealand side, with captain Richie McCaw leading the way, renowned for their work at the breakdown.
"Richie McCaw is the master of biding his time, letting it all unfold and then pouncing to make it accurate," said Farrell of the openside flanker.
"We have to make sure we are on the ball because, like any other team, if we get fast ball, if we get over the gain-line and continuity then we can do some damage."