- Alex Corbisiero reflects on SA tour in RFUtv exclusive
- “We fully aware of what is going to take the scalps of teams like that” – Corbs
The sense of a missed opportunity was the dominant emotion for England’s players after the summer tour to South Africa as Stuart Lancaster’s side emerged with two narrow defeats and a draw from the three Test series.
That sentiment is keenly felt by Alex Corbisiero, after bicep and knee injuries restricted the London Irish prop to just half an hour of action in the second Test at Ellis Park in Johannesburg.
But what an impressive short summer of rugby it was from the loose head, which left a lingering feeling that if he had been available for more game time, a first Test win on South African soil in 12 years may have arrived.
His introduction soon after half time, allied to the ball-carrying of No.8 Thomas Waldrom, heralded a period of dominance that led to genuine hopes of England recovering a 19-point deficit (22-3 after 19 minutes) for their greatest ever Test comeback, only for JP Pietersen’s late try to settle the match.
Photo: Getty Images
The 23-year-old even came close to a maiden Test try, being hauled down inches from the South Africa line the phase before Ben Youngs grabbed his second of the game as England closed to within four points.
“I tried my best but I ran into a brick wall, 120 kilos of South African, and that’s how it goes,” he said.
“As a front rower if the tries come, they come, if they don’t, they don’t – I’m just happy to play and get my set-piece right. I’ll take that game against Ireland [in the RBS 6 Nations] with a penalty try as I’d rather take that than scoring anyway!”
“It was great to come on and make an impact. As a team there is no one man who is going to make a difference, we were slowly turning the screw and as I came on that momentum shifted, our scrum started becoming more dominant and that put us on the front foot in a game where we were under pressure.
Photo: Getty Images
“It was unfortunate they were able to get that break which led to the try because if that hadn’t happened they were definitely in a tough place but that’s Test rugby and that’s how it goes. I really enjoyed being a part of it – it’s all a learning experience.”
Those last two words encapsulate the other feeling which abounds after a first tour to the South Africa for the majority of the squad – only Toby Flood, Mike Brown, David Strettle and Anthony Allen were on the plane in 2007.
Crucially, as England prepare to face the top three sides in the world this autumn, Corbisiero says the young squad now have a real appreciation of what it takes to challenge and defeat the southern hemisphere giants.
“Playing teams like South Africa in their own back yard, it doesn’t get much harder than that,” he said. “As a squad, most of us have now experienced that environment and are fully aware of what is going to take to take the scalps of teams like that.
“It shows us what we’re aiming for, will drive us on harder, and help us set our standards and our goals higher.
“We showed our true colours at times, we were under pressure in tough environments and we were able to claw our way back into games or be competitive. There were a lot of positives out there and if we can replicate what we were able to do for 80 minutes instead of 50 or 60 minutes, we’ll be in a very good place.”
Photo: Getty Images
Corbisiero had surgery on the knee injury which forced him out of the third Test draw in Port Elizabeth and is making steady progress in his recovery. He hopes to be back playing for London Irish in early October and will be raring to go when Fiji, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand come to Twickenham for the inaugural QBE Internationals.
Corbisiero, who has not played against Australia or New Zealand before, added: “The injuries were very frustrating but it’s one of those things that happens in sport and you can beat yourself up about it but it’s happened now and I’ve got to deal with it.
“We’ve got a massive challenge and a massive mountain to climb in the autumn but we’re out there to do ourselves proud. We’re not looking for second place, we’re looking to take what we’ve learnt and build again.”