England v South Africa is such an enticing prospect given what is at stake for both sides.
A ‘new’ England side can finish off their encouraging autumn campaign with a dose of revenge. Banishing the horrors of the 2019 World Cup Final will be high on Eddie Jones’s priority list.
For South Africa, finishing their European campaign unbeaten and as number one in the world is motivation enough.
England v South Africa will likely be decided on whether England’s pack can cope with the ‘bomb’ squad and a power forward pack ‘juggernaut’ fronted by Eben Etzebeth. It is not pretty rugby football but, it is mightily effective as both Wales and Scotland can testify to.
With Ellis Genge and Joe Marler struck by Covid and with Jamie George and Owen Farrell injured, this will be a huge task for the Red Rose pack. It is hard enough taking on the Springbok forwards, but to do it without your first choice front row, is near nigh impossible. Eddie Jones likes a challenge and if England can topple the Springboks on Saturday, it would go down as one of England’s greatest victories.
Marcus Smith has the keys
With Owen Farrell out through injury, this is Marcus Smith’s chance. He has rightly been hailed as a world-class prospect after a brilliant start to his international career. The Wallabies was a step up and South Africa will be even more so. Smith should have a licence to play his game now that he has two genuine centres outside him. All of England will be hoping he can resist the Springbok howitzers that will be gunning for him on Saturday afternoon.
Marcus Smith is the kind of player who could potentially unlock South Africa’s formidable rush defence. England will not beat the Springboks by trying to outmuscle them. They can beat them if they get their runners into the game. Ben Youngs should look for quick tap penalties and playing his ‘show and go’ game to keep South Africa guessing.
Expect the unexpected from the Springboks
South Africa will certainly revert to their kick and chase tactics together with a strong set-piece. What people should remember is South Africa are perfectly capable of ripping England open out wide. The starting selection of Cobus Reinach is a good one by the Springboks. Outstanding off the bench in the last couple of games, Reinbach is a try poacher and creator. Northampton will remember Reinach fondly and his running game is amongst the best in the world.
Lukhanyo Am is the leader out wide and is a hugely underrated attacking centre. Am is known for his thunderous hits alongside Damian de Allende but he has much more to this game. Am’s passing out of hand and vision tore England to shreds in the Rugby World Cup Final. De Allende provides the thrust and Am plays off it. Willie le Roux and Makazole Mapimpi will relish any space that Am can provide.
Why not bring back Mako?
The availability of Joe Marler will be a huge boost to England’s chances of getting parity up front against the Springboks. However, it is asking a huge amount for Marler to make an impact off the bench having been isolated for ten days in his bedroom. It begs the question why hasn’t Eddie Jones brought back Mako Vunipola? Vunipola has been excellent for Saracens this season. His experience would counter the loss of Marler and Ellis Genge. Bevan Rodd and Jamie Blamire have five caps between them. They go in against the world’s best scrummaging unit. Kyle Sinckler will need the game of his life if England are to gain parity with the South Africans.
England has to keep their discipline to stop South Africa from commanding territory and possession. England has improved in this area against Tonga and Australia. If the Springboks get a sniff they will then utilise their rolling maul and scrum to dominate England. Silly penalties and mistakes will be punished by Siya Kolisi’s men.
Dombrandt and Simmonds are crucial to England
A lot of the England fans would have loved watching Sam Simmonds last week sprinting up the touchline to put in Jamie Blamire for England’s second try. England’s back-row options are so hotly contested that any player who comes off the bench has to make a difference. Both Alex Dombrandt and Sam Simmonds did so against the Wallabies.
They remain both involved all be it off the bench but both Simmonds and Dombrant might have a huge role to play against the Springboks. England v South Africa could well be a tight affair with the final twenty minutes deciding the victor. England has a better x-factor on the bench than South Africa do. Dombrandt’s delightful offload to Manu Tuilagi in the final quarter alongside Simmonds’s contribution to the Blamire try are cases in point. Much will depend on what the Springbok ‘bomb’ squad will do to a tiring England front five?
Stop South Africa’s leaders Etzebeth and Am
For all of South Africa’s renowned power, England will not have to contend with Faf de Klerk, Cheslin Kolbe, Tendai ‘The Beast’ Mtawarira, Frans Malherbe or Pieter-Steph du Toit. These five were at the heart of South Africa’s demolition of England in the World Cup Final. They will also have to contend with the outstanding Eben Etzebeth.
Etzebeth has grown into South Africa’s enforcer and he is also a great leader. Etzebeth’s work rate against Scotland was exceptional and he was by far the best player on the pitch. Etzebeth has lost none of his aggression but has improved his discipline, Maro Itoje likewise. What a clash between those two again.
As mentioned Lukhanyo Am is also a player that yields so much influence on this Springbok side. England has Manu Tuilagi who like Am loves to get up and make a hit. If Slade and Tuilagi can keep Am and de Allende quiet then England will go a long way into beating South Africa.
England to edge a tight contest
The Springboks are rightfully favourites on Saturday afternoon. For the first time in a while, England will go in as underdogs and that could suit them very nicely. England’s ‘new-look’ team is showing signs of real promise particularly with world-class talents like Marcus Smith and Alex Dombrandt to the fore. They also have experience upfront through the likes of Maro Itoje and Courtney Lawes so England’s pack must not be underestimated by the Springboks.
In front of a roaring Twickenham faithful England will not die wondering. Charlie Inglefield picks England to edge a tight one 27-23.