Martin Johnson believes England can take a major step towards becoming an elite force in world rugby by beating South Africa on Saturday.

Johnson was frustrated after last weekend’s 28-14 defeat to Australia because he felt England had wasted a chance to prove themselves against one of the sport’s powerhouses.

The England coach has urged his youthful side to make amends against the South Africans at Twickenham.

It will be the first meeting between the teams since last year’s World Cup final victory for the Springboks, but Johnson is more concerned about building for the future than gaining revenge for that 15-6 defeat in Paris.

“It would be fantastic. You can look back on teams and identify their first big win and steps along the way. That would certainly be one for us on Saturday,” Johnson said.

Johnson’s biggest complaint with last week’s loss was that England dominated possession and forced Australia to make around three times as many tackles but still lost.

They conceded too many penalties but Johnson was also concerned by the number of opportunities that were blown because England went “off script” in attack.

“If we can turn three or four situations around from a negative to last week, to a positive this week, the difference on the scoreboard is 12 points,” Johnson said.

“In the heat of the game you have to stand up to the physicality but we have to have the confidence to play what we are trying to do.” England’s recent record against the Tri-Nations teams has been woeful, with just four wins from 20 Tests and five successive defeats to South Africa.

Johnson and his coaching staff have touched on that game in the build-up to this weekend but only to point out technical aspects of the Springboks’ top-class lineout operation and England’s own indiscipline.

With Andrew Sheridan dropping out of the squad, England’s starting XV has only three survivors from the World Cup final – Nick Easter, Phil Vickery and Paul Sackey.

Sheridan has been replaced by Wasps loose-head Tim Payne, who has a prime opportunity to nail down his place after two off weeks for the England pack.

“Andrew has been our first-choice loose-head prop. We haven’t scrummaged well in two games. That is not having a go at Andy, it is a fact,” Johnson said.

“Our forwards have got to put that right. Tim Payne knows he has an opportunity to keep hold of the shirt.”