Preview: South Africa v England
JUNE SERIES: Both of these countries have enjoyed confident support in the past. In both cases, that confidence has been shaken, South Africa’s most of all, till it is wobbly indeed.
The faith of a nation that remembers whitewashing the All Blacks in a series, enjoying three successive Grand Slams in the Home Unions and winning two World Cups, but now it speaks with the hurt of losing to Italy, Japan and three times in a row to Wales.
It is conscious of ugly records, like losing 3-38 to Ireland and 0-57 to New Zealand.
World Rugby has rankings. England is third, South Africa a poor seventh, its lowest ever.
England’s third place is despite a disappointing Six Nations, a team that the Barbarians ran rings around just last month.
But that is nothing like winning just three of its last 10 Tests, as South Africa has done.
And yet South Africa will find hope in a new coach to invigorate the team, believing the often repeated South African credo: ‘We have the talent.’
Oh, and the altitude may help.
Players to Watch
For South Africa: Debutants are always worth watching – South Africa’s exciting wings Sibusiso Nkosi and Aphiwe Dyantyi and rugged young lock Rudolph Snyman. A team that can afford to seat Pieter-Steph du Toit on the bench must have good locks. In fact, there are a lack old timers in the Springboks side and that may herald a new beginning for Springbok rugby.
For England: It is a Test match, country’s best against country’s best, two of the world’s great rugby nations, each with its chosen 23 out of many thousands of players. They are all worth watching. England has a relatively new lock – Nick Isiekwe of Saracens who turned 20 in April and already has two England caps. The back three could just be England’s trump card – fast, aggressive and experienced as they are with a good eye for the chance.
Head to Head: There are two important trinities ranged against each other – front row against front row and back three against back three. The England back three – Elliot Daly, Jonny May and tough Mike Brown – are all players who will attack at the slightest opportunity. The same is true of Willie le Roux, a player with vision and flair who could well set his try-scoring wings running free. Front row against front row – the bulky English trio of Mako Vunipola, Jamie George, whose father was a nimble scrumhalf, and Kyle Winkler against a South African trio of highly experienced Tendai Mtawarira, one of South Africa’s favourite players, Mbongeni Mbonambi and Trevor Nyakane. The South Africans will need all the help they can get. Primary possession will be most important and England may just have an edge in scrums and line-outs. There are individual head-to-heads as well. Two new captains – Siya Kolisi and Owen Farrell, both skilled and determined men, Kolisi perhaps more in control than the more emotional Farrell. There could be a clash of titans when No.8 meets No.8 – Duane Vermeulen against Billy Vunipola, both exceptionally strong, both ball-carriers, neither ready to stand back, asking the old question – What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?
History: South Africans would like a lot of history to repeat itself. The Springboks have played England 38 times. The Springboks have won 23 times, England 13 times and there have been two draws – the first at Crystal place in 1906. Of the 38 matches, 12 were played in South Africa, three at Ellis Park. In fact, the first Test in South Africa between the Springboks and England was at Ellis Park in 1972, and England won 18-9. In 1984 South Africa won 35-9 and in 2012 36-27. The last time the two countries met was at Twickenham in 2016 when England won 37-21. Here endeth the history lesson. History repeats itself, history is there to be made, records are there to be broken. So run the clichés.
Results against Common Opponents 2017-18
Argentina: South Africa won 37-15 and 41-23; England won 38-34, 35-25 and 21-8
Australia: South Africa drew 23-all and 27-all; England won 30-65
France: South Africa won 37-14, 37-15, 35-12 and 18-17; England won 19-16 and lost 16-22
Ireland: South Africa lost 3-38; England lost 9-13 and 15-24
Italy: South Africa won 35-6; England won 36-15 and 46-15
Wales: South Africa lost 22-24 and 20-22; England won 21-16 and 12-6
2016: England won 37-21, London
2014: South Africa won 31-28, London
2012: South Africa won 16-15, London
2012: South Africa and England drew 14-all, Port Elizabeth
2012: South Africa won England 36-27, Johannesburg
2012: South Africa won 22-17, Durban
2010: South Africa won 21-11, London
2008: South Africa won 42-6, London
2007: South Africa won 15-6, Paris World Cup Final)
2007: South Africa won 36-0, Paris (World Cup pool match)
Prediction: There is not a lot to choose between the teams, but a funny internal feeling suggests a Springbok victory by about four points. But wouldn’t be wonderful if it was just a thrilling Test?
South Africa: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Sibusiso Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Rudolph Snyman, 3 Trevor Nyakane/Wilco Louw, 2 Mbongeni Mbonambi, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Armand van der Merwe, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Wilco Louw/Thomas du Toit, 19 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 20 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 21 Ivan van Zyl, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Warrick Gelant.
England: 15 Elliot Daly, 14 Jonny May, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Owen Farrell (captain), 11 Mike Brown, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Tom Curry, 6 Chris Robshaw, 5 Nick Isiekwe, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Jamie George, 1 Mako Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Joe Marler, 18 Harry Williams, 19 Brad Shields, 20 Nathan Hughes, 21 Ben Spencer, 22 Piers Francis, 23 Denny Solomona.
Date: Saturday, June 9
Venue: Ellis Park, Johannesburg
Kick-off: 17.00 (16.00 UK time; 15.00 GMT)
Expected weather: Sunny with a high of 18°C and a low of 4°C – crisp, good rugby weather.
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Romain Poite (France), Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
TMO: Simon McDowell (Ireland)
By Paul Dobson