England are playing a Southern Barbarians XV in Kimberley on Wednesday, before flying back to play the second Test against the Springboks in Johannesburg on Saturday. Next week they also play a midweek game, against the Northern Barbarians.
“The beauty of this tour is that there are opportunities in it to develop experience at the highest environment. It’s an opportunity to build a squad and work with the players. There’s nothing better for a coach than to coach players in a game situation,” Lancaster told a news conference in Johannesburg on Monday.
“There may be an element of distraction from the Test match because instead of having a day off on Wednesday, the whole squad will now travel to Kimberley to provide support. We think that’s important and the challenge is to get the right balance and our attention directed at the right place at the right time. The pros far outweigh the cons and I’d like to do it again in future.”
The eye injury centre Brad Barritt sustained in the first Test in Durban has ruled him out of the second Test and Lancaster said the midweek match provided the ideal opportunity for him to build some midfield depth, particularly in the number 13 jersey.
“I’m playing what would be regarded as two specialist 12s on Wednesday because I want to look at Anthony Allen at 13. I want options for England there and Anthony played outside Brad Barritt in the Churchill Cup.
“The plan is that Anthony will move to 12 in the second half and George Lowe will come on at outside centre. It’s about creating opportunities for everyone and not pigeonholing them,” Lancaster said.
“We must have options in different positions and you don’t get the opportunity to work on that in international rugby – there’s no pre-season and very few warm-up matches.”
England are building a new-look backline, with Saturday’s combination for the first Test only having 98 caps between them, with 72 shared between three players – wings Ben Foden and Chris Ashton and scrumhalf Ben Youngs.
“I’m not afraid to give players chances if they show the right temperament. These lads are coming through as a group, but 13 is an area we still need to look at, we still need to find people to fit in there. Manu Tuilagi was predominantly a wing in age-group rugby,” Lancaster said.
England will also want to be more systematic with their kicking game in Kimberley, a city on the highveld that boasts a hard, dry playing surface, giving kickers extra distance.
“This morning’s review of the Test centred around the third quarter and our lack of composure, especially in terms of our exit strategies – a good kick and chase. Both the halfbacks took responsibility, it’s an honest group and we’ve identified areas we need to work on,” Lancaster said.
Jon Callard, the England kicking coach, said the problems were due to technical issues and breakdowns in communication.
“We had some technical issues but also some communication problems that need to be resolved. For the box kicks, the chasing group were sometimes ready for a move with ball-in-hand so, with the best will in the world, they’re not going to be able to reach a 50-metre kick.
“I thought we dealt with the ball in the air well and produced some good ball to play with from it,” Callard said.
The England team for the second Test will be announced on Thursday.
“We have some important decisions to make in the training tomorrow and then on Thursday we have to make sure the team is cohesive and ready to play,” Lancaster said.
England lost the first Test 17-22 in Durban and have not won at the Springboks’ Johannesburg fortress – Ellis Park – since the 18-9 victory in 1972.