Saints stars say England in positive mood after All Blacks clash

Dylan Hartley is tackled by New Zealand's Richie McCaw and Kieran Read at Twickenham on Saturday
Dylan Hartley is tackled by New Zealand's Richie McCaw and Kieran Read at Twickenham on Saturday
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England duo Dylan Hartley and Tom Wood believe England should be positive about the rest of the autumn international series after a narrow defeat to New Zealand on Saturday.

The Saints pair said the players aimed to bounce back from the 24-21 loss to the world champions as they prepare to face the current second-best team on the planet, South Africa, this weekend.

England had led 14-11 at the break in a fierce Twickenham encounter, but amid torrential second-half downpours, the home team was swamped by relentless second-half pressure.

But the fact they dug in and only lost by three points, after a thrilling final five minutes, led Hartley to praise the belief in the injury-hit squad.

He said: “We can take huge belief in what we did against New Zealand. We performed well but unfortunately the result didn’t come.

“If we play like that next week against South Africa, we should be confident.

“What was positive for me was the 80-minute performance, finishing really strong and starting really well.

“We can’t dwell on the defeat and we have to front up for the South Africa game. Come Saturday, we’ve got to be right up there.”

England began the game without several first team regulars - including Saints’ stars Alex Corbisiero (injured shoulder)and Luther Burrell (injured hand) - while Courtney Lawes had to go off with a head injury after only 22 minutes.

But Tom Wood praised the squad’s strength and determination.

He said: “When you consider some of the people who were missing, some of the guys who stepped in did themselves proud.

“It’s great for English rugby if we can keep developing that strength in the squad.

“There is plenty of belief there. We showed that we could more than compete, if not dominate for large periods, particularly up front.

“We’ve gone toe-to-toe with the All Blacks and were just on the wrong side of it, but they are widely acclaimed as the best team in the world and we’ve pushed them very hard.

“We dominated them in a lot of areas for long periods, so the belief is absolutely there.

“Our preparation has been great. We’ve trained really well, we’re stepping up a level in training and it’s starting to show.

“There’s some big names to come back and we’re developing that strength in depth, so having that variety of being able to pick different players for different occasions is going to be a real strength.”

England return to Twickenham this Saturday to take on South Africa, who started their tour with a 29-15 defeat in Dublin.

But Wood admitted the pressure would be on for a home victory.

“The pressure is always on for us to perform at Twickenham, particularly coming on the back of a loss, so it won’t change anything in the way we prepare.

“We will come out and give it everything once again and hopefully we’ll fall on the right side of a result.

“It will be a pretty physical challenge. They’re the only side to beat the All Blacks in recent times and they’re a quality outfit, so we need to be on top of our game.”

With Australia also coming to Twickenham on November 29, England know this series will be a measure of how they might fare in the World Cup in 2015.

And Hartley added: “We’re certainly in a good position for next year. We’ve got to keep focussing on our performance and the results will come.

“Hopefully in the next three games we’ll get those results.”