ENG vs. SA - Both with points to prove

Victor Matfield and Eben Etzebeth will be formidable come line-out time
Victor Matfield and Eben Etzebeth will be formidable come line-out time

Physicality will be the word of the day on Saturday 15th November as the Springboks arrive at Twickenham Stadium, hurting and on the bounce back, what a prospect that is for the 23 English men in crisp white shirts with red roses on them.

“You need to be a smart team if you want to beat them; they are the most physical team with big guys and big backs that play very direct rugby. They have no secret formula, they are very territorial and you’ve got to defend extremely well.” Those are the words of Captain Christ Robshaw and it is clear that he and his men are under no illusions about extent of the task ahead of them this weekend.

England haven’t ended beaten South Africa for a long, long time, and indeed no member of the current squad has ever had experienced ending a game victorious against them. The last time they met in 2012 the final score board read South Africa 16 England 15, however encouragingly since that moment England have developed and progressed as a side. Collectively England have been through many testing times over the past two years, we have seen them grow and they have learned many lessons.

On Saturday afternoon it is about putting those lessons into practice and instead of talking about doing so.

South Africa’s man at the helm, Heyneke Meyer, has spent the week insisting that the 5 changes that he has made to his squad are ‘pre-planned’ and not a result of last weekend’s 14 point loss to Ireland and in my eyes whether that rings true or not is immaterial. South Africa were squeezed out in Dublin, by an Irish side that were totally in their groove and they won’t put out such a performance again this weekend, unless England forces them to. They house two of best set pieces out there with their scrum led by Tendai Mtawarira and line out led by the compromising duo of Eben Etzebeth and Victor Matfield.

One area of exposure could be in the half backs for Cobus Reinach has certainly been thrown in at the deep end with Pat Lambie but that particularly Cobus starting was something that Meyer had to do after Dublin. Collectively the Boks will have worked hard over the past five days at finding that balance of playing expansive rugby and playing sensible rugby and if they do with their weapons upfront and out the back they will be extremely dangerous.

This week Stuart Lancaster said that by picking the same XV, bar Anthony Watson’s arrival, that he is ‘giving his players a second chance to improve on their performance’. Naturally there are areas we will all be hyper critical about this weekend and areas that must improve; England’s game management, the kicking of our half backs and the collective precision to finish chances when they arise. Without these factors succeeding, against a scorned Springboks, England will lose the game and we will end the 80 minutes repeating exactly the same words that we did a little under seven days ago.

Professional sport is tough, this week both sides will have been through the mill and on Saturday afternoon Twickenham Stadium will be a cauldron of pressure. The stakes for both sides are extremely high; losing is not an option for either... it will be a test of character, a test of physical strength and a test of wills for 80 minutes in South Welsh London. The question remains, just what can England they deliver when it matters most?


2019 Rugby World Cup Points Table