De Klerk was the ringmaster as Eddie Jones‘ men slumped to a fourth successive Test defeat (and fifth loss overall after last month’s defeat to the Barbarians) by allowing a 21-point lead established inside the opening quarter to slide into a 42-39 loss.
To rub salt into English wounds, the result has seen them drop to fifth in the global rankings.
Tries from Mike Brown, Elliot Daly and Owen Farrell delivered a stunning start before the collapse began as South Africa took a grip on the match that they retained until the final 10 minutes.
Jones has located his squad in Umhlanga by the Indian Ocean rather than on the Highveld even though the first and second Tests are staged at altitude and established protocol dictates teams should arrive at least 10 days earlier or less than 24 hours before kick-off.
England had the scope to accommodate both of those time frames in their schedule and De Klerk has revealed their choice of training venue was noted with interest by the Springboks.
“We knew they were based in Durban and that coming from the UK the altitude was going to be a factor,” De Klerk said.
“I think the altitude plays a part. England made a few errors they don’t usually make and that played into our hands.”
Hooker Jamie George admits that the thin air at the sport’s highest venue which stands over a mile above sea level took its toll on the players, who face a similar challenge to their conditioning in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
“It was tough after 20 minutes. It really did kick in. After 20 to 30 minutes it definitely hit us quite hard,” George said.
“At the same time, we’d had good plans in place from a strength and conditioning point of view. We probably need to get better at that.
“We are still at altitude in Bloemfontein, although not quite as high. We’ll look to learn our lessons.”
Jones remains satisfied with his plan despite a defeat in Johannesburg that has increased the pressure on his stewardship following an abysmal fifth-place finish in the recent Six Nations.
“We don’t think the benefits of staying at altitude are massive enough. And we didn’t lose the game because of altitude,” he said.
“The way we started the game and thereafter, you wouldn’t have thought altitude was the problem. It was a momentum game based on possession.”
A indicator of the tension that has set in amid England’s slump was Jones’ snappy response when pushed on their recent form.
Including last month’s nine-try rout by the Barbarians at Twickenham, the run stands at five losses but Jones is eager to scrub the non-cap international from the record books.
“We’ve not had five defeats. We have lost four Test matches,” he said.
When pressed on the dismal sequence, Jones replied: “I’m not going to answer that question because I will lose my patience.”
Phillips, who is the joint sixth most capped Welshman of all-time with 94 caps for the Dragons, only retired in 2017 and quickly moved out to the UAE, where he established his Mike Phillips Rugby Academy alongside Just Play in December.
The 35-year-old former scrum-half replaces another former professional player at Dragons, after ex-New Zealand league and England union international Henry Paul left Dragons to take up an assistant coaching role with Canada last month after two years with Jebel Ali.
Paul returned Dragons to prominence in that time; the club winning the West Asia Premiership last season to pick up a coveted first piece of silverware in four seasons.
And Phillips is keen for Dragons to build upon the foundations laid by Paul and push on under his guidance.
“I’m so delighted to join the current leading team in the UAE, Jebel Ali Dragons,” said Phillips.
“I can’t wait to add the passion and energy I showed in my playing career now in my new role as director of rugby and working with a very experienced and successful coaching team.
“Henry Paul did such a great job in moving the team forward, and I hope to push it further along with what I’ve learned throughout my career.”
Phillips earned a reputation for being a fearsome competitor during his playing days, shining as a scrum-half – Wales’ most capped number nine after surpassing Dwayne Peel – despite being unusually tall for the position (6ft 4in).
He scored nine tries in the hallowed red jersey and also earned five Lions caps on tours to South Africa in 2009 and Australia in 2013.
He played in the 2007 and 2011 Rugby World Cups for Wales and was at nine for Wales’ 2008 and 2012 Grand Slam-winning Six Nations campaigns as well as the side which retained the championship in 2013.
Dragons chairman Stuart Quinn is certain Phillips can raise the bar set for the club by Paul.
“As a club we have decided that investing in the very best coaching options available to us is the only way to succeed and achieve sustainability,” he said.
“We believe Mike will take the platform set by the previous DoR and raise the quality once again. The standard of rugby is leaping forward in the region and we think that it’s our responsibility to ensure the coaching is always ahead of that.
“We have a product that we offer to over 120 senior players. We need to make sure it’s the best product in West Asia and the UAE.
“Mike brings his wealth of knowledge to the current West Asia champions. Working alongside last year’s coaching team of Andrew Buist and Jonny Macdonald, Mike will be looking to build on a club that is set to raise the bar higher once again.
“As a player that has only just retired, he brings the most recent and relevant rugby knowledge to the club. The appointment along with the continued support of Dragons’ sponsors, JA Hotels and Hesco, positions the team well for the upcoming season.”
Since moving to the Emirates, Phillips has also appeared as a rugby pundit for beIN Sports.
To learn more about Phillips’ academy, visit www.mikephillipsacademy.com
Former England head coach Clive Woodward has branded the Red Rose’s 2018 a horror show.
Woodward, whose team were crowned world champions in 2003, said Eddie Jones‘ side have not progressed at the same rate as their rivals.
England conceded five tries in a 42-39 defeat by South Africa on Saturday – a fourth consecutive Test defeat.
It had all started so well for England as they opened up a 24-3 lead inside 18 minutes, but the Springboks rallied to score four tries to lead 29-27 at the interval.
Woodward said the first 20 minutes of Saturday’s match “was some of the best rugby I have ever seen England play”.
But Jones’ side faded badly – and Springboks scrum-half Faf de Klerk said the hosts always intended to prey on England’s vulnerabilities at altitude.
“Something is not right because they are normally very good defensively,” said Woodward on BBC Radio 5 live.
“The bubble has burst and teams have recognised that the way to beat England is by playing an all-out fast game.”
Defeat in Johannesburg follows a disappointing Six Nations campaign during which England lost three of their five matches and conceded their title to Ireland.