Rob Andrew, England’s elite rugby director, said the team were engaged in a “long-term” project following a crushing trio of defeats by the Tri-Nations last month.
England, under new manager Martin Johnson, were beaten 28-14, 42-6 and 32-6 by Australia, world champions South Africa and New Zealand on successive weekends at Twickenham.
Their performances, which saw the Springboks inflict England’s heaviest home defeat, suggested a huge gap, but former England outside-half Andrew said now was not the time to pass judgment on England.
“We said right from the word go it was a three-year project,” said Andrew, who oversaw the appointment of Johnson after England controversially axed former coach Brian Ashton, who saw the team to the 2007 World Cup final.
“That’s why we changed the RFU [Rugby Football Union] contract structure and gave Martin a three-year contract until December 2011,” he told reporters at Twickenham on Tuesday.
Andrew and Johnson, who was beside him, said the inexperience of the current side had to be taken into consideration.
“On Saturday, New Zealand had 647 caps and we had 275. Look at the experience that isn’t there from the 2007 World Cup — there isn’t a side in the world that’s lost 10 players from a World Cup final,” Andrew said. “We are where we are. We haven’t got old guard to go back to.”
However, England deliberately opted against fielding such experienced players as Josh Lewsey, Danny Grewcock, Mike Tindall and Andy Gomarsall during last month’s Tests.
“We are picking the guys who are playing the best in the Premiership,” Johnson said. “Danny Care is the best scrum-half in the Premiership, but there is a balance to be struck.”
Former Australia coach Eddie Jones said on Monday that England’s structure was “crazy” and didn’t allow for development.
“A lot of what Eddie says is right,” Andrew said. “Mathew Tait, Tom Rees, Tom Croft, Danny Care and Danny Cipriani [who all played for England last month] are the first generation out of the academy system. But we do need the Premiership to help with player development.”
England completed an Under-20 Six Nations grand slam this year before reaching the finals of the Under-20 World Cup, where they lost to New Zealand.
“Our Under-20 are at world level, but we need them to move on,” Andrew said. “That’s part of the issue with dual registration in the First Division. We want players to get 80 minutes. We’ve got to avoid falling into the trough of not having enough players coming through.”