England hint at surprise for Boks' aerial assault
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Maro Itoje has insisted that the year-end match against South Africa can not come soon enough given England’s dramatic draw with New Zealand at the weekend.
Eddie Jones’ team fought back from a 19-point deficit to draw 25-25 with the All Blacks at Twickenham on Saturday, a stunning late salvo of tries making up for a passive first half.
Frustrated that England only clicked once the All Blacks had built a near-assailable lead, Itoje has demanded that they are relentless in their pursuit of the world champion Springboks.
“Playing South Africa at Twickenham – I’m really looking forward to it. I only wish the game is a little bit sooner because we left a lot out there against New Zealand,” Itoje said.
“While the second half was a bit more how we want to play, next week is an opportunity to hopefully play how we want to play for the full 80 minutes.
“We have an incredible amount of potential in this team, we just need to unlock it. We are spending more and more time together and are becoming more cohesive, so hopefully, it will come.
“I’m proud that we stuck at it and we didn’t go away and proud that we played some great rugby towards the end of that game, but we need to play like that for the whole game.
“You never want to be too happy with a draw, but it’s better than losing.
“Hopefully, it will put us in better stead for South Africa, who will be a great challenge.”
Itoje added: “South Africa haven’t changed the way they play since their first game in international rugby! Strong set-piece, strong kicking game, strong defence.”
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Jones is set to shelve the experiment of playing specialist number eights Sam Simmonds and Billy Vunipola together in the back row in order to strengthen their lineout against South Africa.
The England head coach has highlighted the importance of having options in the set-piece in anticipation of the Springboks’ aerial assault, pointing to Itoje replacing Simmonds at blindside flank and Dave Ribbans starting at lock.
“We probably need three jumpers against South Africa. It’s going to be a higher kicking game so we will have a look at that,” Jones said.
“We were a bit disappointed early on against New Zealand about the effectiveness of our ruck defence. Ardie Savea we handled pretty well. Tom Curry and Sam Simmonds defensively were good and that is the best Test match I’ve seen Billy Vunipola play since 2019.”
Jones continued to back the on-field decision of Marcus Smith to kick the ball dead in overtime rather than launch a do-or-die assault in the hope of snatching victory. Former England stars Will Greenwood and Mike Brown, as well as World Cup-winning coach Clive Woodward, have all criticised the call for lacking ambition.
“It’s easy to make a decision on the sideline but the players understood that (referee) Mathieu Raynal was penalising very heavily the attacking ruck,” Jones said.
“He has got an exceptionally high penalty count against the attacking ruck so when we didn’t get a go-forward kick reception the players made the decision to not put any more money on the table, pick up and leave. I don’t have any qualms with the decision they made.”