Given the level of sacrifice that has to be made for occasions such as Saturday’s game, there have been more team changes this week than English centre combinations over the last 8 years. So hectic has it been, that Sean Long’s participation was only confirmed last night. In a sense though, it’s all part of the fun.
Weather: Sunshine, 11 degrees, strong easterly wind.
An array of retired rugby greats are strapping on the boots for another run-out, and it’s an impressive list. Tom Smith, Gordon Bulloch, Danny Grewcock, Alan Quinlan and Serge Betsen are all packing down up front, with Will Greenwood the star name in the backs. On the bench there is some exciting young English talent in Scott Spurling, Chris Cook and Anthony Watson, along with former England stars Duncan Bell and Ben Cohen.
Featuring a formidable back row in AJ Venter, Phil Waugh and 2011 Rugby World Cup winner Adam Thomson, the Southern Hemisphere have a great mixture of elderly statesmen including Joe Roff, Justin Harrison, Justin Marshall, Nicky Little, Epi Taione and Zac Feau’nati, plus rising young stars from South Africa (Sias Ebersohn, Andries Strauss) and New Zealand (Jackson Willison, Jeremy Thrush).
What to Expect:
Plenty of heart, but not perhaps the greatest level of skill. One note that the four coaches stressed on Monday’s press conference was that despite the trouncing handed out to the Barbarians by Australia last week, it is still possible to have a match with no competitive outcome and still put on a spectacle. Rolling substitutes will hopefully keep the pace of the game going, but given the Southern Hemisphere’s back row, I fancy them to dominate the breakdown and therefore possession.
Head-to-Head: Serge Betsen & Phil Waugh
With over 140 caps between the two of them for their respective countries, these two men have literally given their bodies to the game. Never shy of a big tackle to get the crowd on their feet, they will be worth watching, though Betsen’s admission to me yesterday that he wasn’t quite sure how long he would last was a little bit concerning.
One to Watch: Eli Walker & Sias Ebersohn
Hailed as the next great young Welsh winger, following in the footsteps of Tom Prydie and Kristian Phillips, Eli Walker is rated very highly at the Ospreys. Making his first team debut this season in the RaboDirect Pro12, the Swansea-born flyer has impressed so far and a good showing at Twickenham will only increase his status. Meanwhile for the Southern Hemisphere, observers of last season’s Super Rugby championship will have taken note of Sias Ebersohn’s potential. The young fly-half is an excellent kicker, with a good touch of pace and passing game.
Honestly, how knows?! Looking at the starting line-ups, the Southern Hemisphere by 8.
by Ben Coles