‘They don’t stop coming’ – Double try scorer Stuart on South Africa challenge

Will Stuart made his return from a six week injury layoff against England

After having six weeks out with injury, Will Stuart’s return to the field couldn’t have gone much better.

Scoring two tries as England returned from 19 points down to draw 25-all with the All Blacks at Twickenham in the Autumn Nations Series, to describe the replacement tighthead prop as an unlikely scorer is putting things mildly.

Having never crossed the whitewash for his country before, the 26-year-old getting over the whitewash twice in close quarters as Eddie Jones’ team rallied in the final 10 minutes.

Helped in part thanks to Beauden Barrett having been shown a yellow for killing the ball on the line, Mathieu Raynal going to the TMO and awarding Stuart’s first try as the Bath man just about dotted down according to the officials.

Freddie Steward’s score would be sandwiched between the prop’s double contributing to a comeback that at one stage seemed hugely unlikely.

“It was just good to come on,” Stuart said. “All the lads who came on brought a big impact and it’s great to be a part of a momentum swing like that, you can feel it. It’s exciting.

“I nearly botched that first try completely and Eddie said I need to sort out my finishing drills, so I might be doing some of that with the wingers next week.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Will Stuart (@wstuart1)

“I had quite a few family members down as well, so it was special to do it in front of them.”

Taking on the All Blacks always has a feel of mysticism. A jersey which has so much history and so much written about it has contributed to the team having an aura of invincibility around them. 

That and the Haka has contributed plenty to the team’s success, New Zealand the only side to have won back-to-back Rugby World Cups and at Twickenham, for a time Ian Foster’s side seemed to have that familiar quality.

In a turning of the table, it was New Zealand that started quickly and England that finished strongly. That crumbling of the foundations that the touring side experienced had plenty to do with Beauden Barrett’s late yellow, the full-back’s dismissal seeing plenty more space for England to attack.

Ultimately taking the game to the All Blacks was what helped reinvigorate England so much. It was essentially the rugby equivalent of Tom Brady being uncomfortable with an onrushing defence, that late flurry for England a product of added confidence on the field.

“It’s my first time playing them and that was the whole chat during the week – they’re not the same team as the All Blacks of 10 years ago,” Stuart said. 

“There’s opportunity to start imposing ourselves on them which we didn’t do in the first half, but as the game started going on, we could get a bit of momentum.

“We bumped up the physicality way more in the forwards. It was good to be part of.”

Physicality will be on the agenda next weekend too. Welcoming South Africa to London next Saturday, England will be coming up against the current World Cup holders, the team that beat them in the Final back in 2019.

Much of the narrative throughout the week will be how Rassie Erasmus was banned for two games for comments he made on Twitter. On the field, South Africa have had a fairly poor Autumn Nations Series as a result of losses to Ireland and France.

Beating Italy 63-21 in Genoa has been a rare highlight for Jacques Nienaber’s team on their northern hemisphere tour and makes them an interesting proposition. 

“Everyone knows how South Africa plays, but it’s stopping them that’s the issue,” Stuart said. “I watched the South Africa-France game, and the physicality in that was through the roof.

“So, we know we need to bump it up a lot from the first half today. I was shown a yellow card in the first minute last autumn so hopefully there will be a better showing from me.

“I played in that, and they don’t stop coming, especially at set-piece. So that will be a big focus area for us.”

In spite of his early yellow a year ago, England still picked up a narrow 27-26 win. It was a huge result and certainly gives Eddie Jones’ team the favourites tag coming into the fixture.

Playing another of the world’s best is the perfect way for England to wrap up an autumn campaign that has seen them lose to Argentina, breeze past Japan and pull off an all-mighty comeback against the All Blacks, and Stuart knows that to beat the Springboks, it all starts on the training paddock.

“It’s how you prep in the week, especially as it’s up against one of the best scrums in the world,” Stuart said. “So the amount of stuff we go into the week prepping for that will probably be heightened a bit. It’s an international game, so you shouldn’t be here if you’re not fired up.”