England boss Eddie Jones says his side are in a “stronger position” despite the series defeat by South Africa as they build towards the 2019 World Cup.
England lost the series 2-1 after beating the Springboks 25-10 in the final Test at Newlands on Saturday.
Jones said his senior players stepped up to prevent a series whitewash and end England’s five-Test losing run.
“They were some of our best players and in the previous games they’ve been at fault at times,” he told BBC Sport.
The Australian picked out captain Owen Farrell, forwards Joe Marler, Chris Robshaw and Joe Launchbury, winger Mike Brown and scrum-half Ben Youngs as having “handled big moments much better” in the final Test.
“That’s what’s called experience,” he added. “That comes from playing together and the leadership group being bedded down.
“I thought our senior players today were absolutely outstanding.”
The 58-year-old believes the lost series will benefit his England squad in the long run, with new players such as Tom Curry, Harry Williams and Henry Slade having impressed on tour.
“I think it’s actually put us in a stronger position,” he said. “It’s been an absolutely important part to renew the side.
“Williams, Curry, Slade have all come through and all played in the biggest Test matches and have all shown themselves capable of playing in the World Cup, so it’s been a great period for us, albeit the results have been disappointing.”
‘We’ve created history’
England had never won a Test – or even scored a try – at Newlands in Cape Town before Saturday, and Jones insisted the game was never going to be a “dead-rubber”, despite already having lost the series to the Springboks.
“We have to win every Test,” he said. “The expectation is that we win every Test. So that wasn’t exacerbated by the run we’ve had, but certainly you need your senior players to show the way.
“We’ve created history. They are the first group of players from England to ever win at Newlands, which is one of the greatest rugby grounds in the world.”
Farrell scored 20 points with the boot, but it was the vision of Danny Cipriani and the finishing prowess of Jonny May to score England’s only try that caught the coach’s attention.
“May has had an exceptional tour,” said Jones. “He’s proved himself a really top-class winger. Scored three tries and probably had a hand in three others.
“We mentioned Cipriani might have the ability to take the opportunity, which he did. He saw the space, put a well-weighted kick in and the chase was fantastic.”
‘We want to be the best in the world’
England will regroup in November for Test matches against South Africa, New Zealand, Japan and Australia, when Jones expects to have a number of injured and rested players available again.
“Every Test is tough for England,” he said. “It’s a difficult environment coaching England, but I love it. This week I have enjoyed the challenge of getting a side back in a winning position.
“We want to be the best team in the world and you have to go through these periods to find out things about yourself, we have done that. Now we want to kick on.
“You put together the players that are missing with this group of players and the competition we are going to have, we are going to have a very strong team.”