England v South Africa - teams and prediction
OFF-FIELD DRAMA: It is a replay of the 2019 World Cup Final, but the build-up has been overshadowed by sideshows.
There is no doubt the RassieGate saga cast a pall over the Twickenham showdown between England and South Africa.
The ban of South Africa’s Director of Rugby, Rassie Erasmus, by World Rugby, could be a major distraction for the Springboks.
It could also serve as a rejuvenating factor for a team that may well thrive on the idea of being under siege.
That is not the only contentious issue that caused a storm around the Springbok camp this week.
To say South Africa was ‘snubbed’ in the World Rugby awards nominations would be an understatement.
The only representation from South Africa is in the Try of the Year category. It is Lukhanyo Am’s score for South Africa in the 27-9 demolition of the British and Irish Lions in the second Test in Cape Town.
Given that South Africa has remained at No.1 on the world rankings for all but two weeks, won the series against the B&I Lions, beat the All Blacks, Wales and Scotland, it has left most pundits bemused as to why they don’t get more recognition.
Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber tactfully sidestepped the question of how it impacted the team – talking about “trusting” and “respecting” the process.
However, he was more willing to respond to England coach Eddie Jones’ baiting over the Boks’ seemingly dour playing style and over-reliance on physicality.
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“Every country will play to its own strengths and we do the same,” Nienaber said.
“We employ the style we think will get us the results,” he said the drive to win and remain at No.1.
Nienaber pointed to England’s impressive 32-15 win over Australia last week as a reason why South Africa is facing a mammoth task against the host team.
“That [win] just shows the class of England,” the Bok coach said.
He said the ‘youthful’ look of the England squad is quite deceptive.
“Through the majority of the squad, there are some old hands.
He pointed to players like Maro Itoje, Kyle Sinckler and Joe Marler – all of whom played against the Boks in the 2019 World Cup Final – as a reason to be cautious.
“They know what they have to do and what their DNA is, what they have to do to get a result.
“The core of that team is the team that beat New Zealand in the [2019 World Cup] semifinal and played against us in the Final.”
England had issues of their own, having named Courtney Lawes as captain in place of the injured Owen Farrell.
Farrell has been ruled out because of ankle surgery that threatens the inside back’s availability for the start of the Six Nations.
His absence will see Lawes return to the skipper role he performed during a rout of Tonga two weeks ago, with the blindside flank set to win his 90th cap.
England coach Eddie Jones has no qualms over having Lawes as his captain now, despite the competing claims of Ben Youngs and Maro Itoje, even if he had once harboured doubts over the 32-year-old Northampton forward’s leadership qualities.
“Courtney wasn’t a leader the first time I laid eyes on him,” Jones told a media briefing this week.
“He was a fairly laconic, laid-back, naturally talented rugby player,” Jones said.
Jones believes any ideas South Africa has regarding a “weak” England pack will be misplaced when the teams meet at Twickenham on Saturday.
The England coach was in bullish mood ahead of a fresh confrontation with a fearsome Springbok pack and the world champions’ renowned ‘Bomb Squad’ of replacement front-row forwards.
And that’s despite injuries and COVID-19 meaning England novices Bevan Rodd and Jamie Blamire will pack down in a front row featuring experienced prop Kyle Sinckler – with Joe Marler on the bench as the seasoned loosehead is only expected to come out of self-isolation on Thursday.
South Africa demolished England at the scrum two years ago, with Jones telling reporters after naming his side on Thursday: “Siya Kolisi [the Springboks’ captain] after the World Cup final, said he knew how to beat us.
“Obviously their game is based on physicality so the implication is that they can go over our forward pack. But our English forward pack won’t be weak on Saturday.”
The veteran Australian coach added: “We don’t have a ‘Bomb Squad’ like South Africa are so proud about, but we have Joe Marler and Will Stuart.
“There’s no team that’s unbeatable, there’s no team that doesn’t have a flaw in whatever they do and sometimes your strength becomes your weakness.”
Jones has again opted to play one of his backs out of their usual position, with Joe Marchant recalled on the wing this weekend.
“We know that South Africa are going to come through the air,” said Jones.
“We feel that Joe Marchant is one of the best in England in the air so it brings an ability to contest in the air really well.”
Players to watch
For England: The front row selection of hooker Jamie Blamire (four caps), with props Bevan Rodd (just one cap) and Kyle Sinckler (46 caps) seems to have left the England scrum in a vulnerable position. Locks Maro Itoje (50 caps) and Jonny Hill (11 caps) will play a vital role in the set pieces. The selection of
Manu Tuilagi at inside centre, in the absence of the injured Owen Farrell, and Marcus Smith is at flyhalf also raise a few questions.
South Africa: The most significant Springbok selections are at halfback – where Handré Pollard starts at flyhalf and Cobus Reinach at scrumhalf – the latter replacing an out-of-sorts Herschel Jantjies at No.9. The return of Lodewyk de Jager to the second row gives the Bok tight five some serious stability, while it allows the energetic workhorse, Franco Mostert, to make his impact off the bench.
Head to head
@rugby365com: South Africa by six points
England: 15 Freddie Steward, 14 Joe Marchant, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Manu Tuilagi, 11 Jonny May, 10 Marcus Smith, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Tom Curry, 7 Sam Underhill, 6 Courtney Lawes (Captain), 5 Jonny Hill, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Jamie Blamire, 1 Bevan Rodd.
Replacements: 16 Nic Dolly, 17 Joe Marler, 18 Will Stuart, 19 Charlie Ewels, 20 Sam Simmonds, 21 Alex Dombrandt, 22 Raffi Quirke, 23 Max Malins
South Africa: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Jesse Kriel, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Handré Pollard. 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Albertus Smith, 6 Siyamthanda Kolisi (captain), 5 Lodewyk de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Mbongeni Mbonambi, 1 Retshegofaditswe Nché.
Replacements: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Franco Mostert, 20 Jasper Wiese, 21 Herschel Jantjies, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Francois Steyn.
Date: Saturday, November 20
Venue: Twickenham Stadium, London
Kick-off: 15.15 (15.15 GMT; 17.15 SA time)
Expected weather: Plenty of clouds throughout the day, with a chance of isolated spots of light rain or drizzle. High of 11°C and a low of 6°C
Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Angus Gardner (Australia), Frank Murphy (Ireland)
TMO: Brian MacNeice (Ireland)
* Additional reporting by AFP