England Ready For Springbok Showdown
England v South Africa
After the Springboks crushing defeat to Ireland, England go into their clash against the South Africans in high spirits after their narrow defeat to the All Blacks.
It’s been a bruising year for Stuart Lancaster’s England side: repeatedly tested against the best side in the world, yet left with nothing to show for it. After finishing second in the Six Nations, they battled through a tour of New Zealand, twice pushing the All Blacks close, but failing to win a game, then kicked off their autumn internationals with another defeat against the same opponents at Twickenham last weekend.
South Africa arrived in Europe on a high after ending the All Blacks’ unbeaten run in their final game of the Rugby Championship, a competition where the Springboks finished second, winning four out of six games, their only defeats coming away from home in Australia and New Zealand. But they came unstuck in Dublin last weekend when they were out-thought in wet conditions by a Johnny Sexton-inspired Ireland.
England lock Courtney Lawes and hooker Dylan Hartley are both being monitored after suffering concussion, centre Kyle Eastmond has been in quarantine with a virus and lock Dave Attwood missed training on Monday after a knock to the leg. But all four are expected to be fit for Saturday. Winger Semesa Rokoduguni has been ruled out with a hip injury, so Harlequins’ Marland Yarde has been called up.
Remarkably, the only casualty for South Africa in Dublin was a fractured tooth for prop Jannie du Plessis, but Heyneke Meyer may make a few tactical changes, including at fly-half, where rising star Handre Pollard struggled against Ireland.
South Africa have won 22 of their 36 encounters with England, and are undefeated in the last eleven, including five meetings at Twickenham. In fact you have to go back to 2006 to find the last English victory against the Springboks.
A run of nine consecutive victories against the men in white came to an end with a stirring 14-14 draw in Port Elizabeth in the summer of 2012, but South Africa resumed their dominance with a narrow victory in the autumn internationals at Twickenham in the same year, a game in which the tourists opened up a 16-6 lead early in the second half and then held off a late English surge to hang on 16-15.
That close final score-line has been typical of recent encounters between the two sides, suggesting that England are getting closer. Their average margin of defeat in their last three losses to South Africa has been just five.
Last weekend, South Africa failed to adapt to slippery underfoot conditions, and Johnny Sexton ran them ragged with a superb display of tactical kicking.
The tourists can expect England to adopt similar tactics this weekend. Meyer’s side have built their recent run of impressive results on an expansive style of play, so the home side will be happy to see their opponents revert to a forward-dominated game-plan and can edge this to end their poor run against the South Africans. Back England at 4/5.