Date: Saturday, 9th June
Venue: Ellis Park Stadium, Johannesburg
Kick-off: 4:05pm BST
It’s no secret that the past two years for the Springboks have been seasons to forget. Several thrashings by the All Blacks, including a record defeat, and a first loss to Italy. Allister Coetzee has rightly been sacked, and he can complain all he likes about a conspiracy against him and throw all his toys out of the pram, but at the end of the day he was the worst coach South Africa has had since Rudolf Straeuli in 2002/03. However, new Head Coach Rassie Erasmus is a quality acquisition by the SARU, and he has the capacity to be their saviour.
Now, it’s true that Munster’s success last season during Erasmus’ tenure was probably more to do with emotion than tactical brilliance, but I think Erasmus did a great job of harvesting the players’ emotions and energy to drive them towards success as they reached the semifinals of the Champions Cup and the final of the Pro14. I do believe that Erasmus has the balls and the guts to be the head coach and that is evidenced to an extent in his selection.
The pressure is still on Erasmus to quickly turn around the Springboks’ fortunes and he has been short of luck: South Africa’s only well-performing function during their torrid run was their forward pack, especially at lineout, masterminded superbly by forward coach Johann van Graan. Unfortunately, Erasmus’ replacement at Munster is van Graan which is a huge loss for the new Bok coach.
South Africa has also endured some key injuries to crucial players, captain Eben Etzebeth is yet to recover from his injury sustained at the Principality Stadium in November, fellow lock Lood de Jager of the Bulls is injured, world class hooker Malcom Marx is out of the tour, winger Courtnall Skosan is also still out with a leg injury, while recalled veterans Frans Steyn and Bismarck du Plessis have been late withdrawals with injuries sustained in the Top14 final in France. These are all troops that Erasmus would have wanted to galvanise his squad but he is going to have to make do with what he’s got.
Unfortunately, I can’t see all of South Africa’s problems being fixed in one test series. England are in bad form, but they’re still favourites to win the test series. And with a lot of high-profile injuries, South Africa aren’t going to set the world on fire, but bolstered by the return of on-form veterans plying their trade abroad the Boks are definitely capable of grinding out a 1st test win and causing a minor upset but unfortunately for the South Africans it’s going to take a few more defeats and a lot more patience from them before Springboks rise from the ashes and dominate World Rugby again.
As you would expected, Erasmus has made significant changes from the experimental side sent to play Wales last week. Tendai Mtawarira starts for his 99th game, while the overseas players Willie le Roux and Faf de Klerk will look to bring leadership and inspiration to a team down in the dumps.
You can’t really draw anything from last week’s defeat to Wales as both teams played B-sides, the whole thing was a mess (on-and-off the field), very few players involved in that test are playing against England, but it doesn’t help the Boks’ form guide and denies any momentum going into a test series of such importance to both sides.
To be honest, I’m shocked that elusive outside centre Jesse Kriel isn’t featuring at all, he has been electric for the Bulls in 2018, Am has played well for the Sharks but not on par with the former World U20s champion in my opinion. De Allende is also a slightly confusing selection, he is struggling to cement a starting place in the Stormers at the moment and I would have preferred Steyn to start in the centre had he not been injured.
15. le Roux (Wasps, England), 14. Nkosi, 13. Am (both Sharks), 12. de Allende (Stormers), 11. Dyantyi (Lions), 10. Pollard (Bulls), 9. de Klerk (Sale Sharks, England), 1. Mtawarira (Sharks), 2. Mbonambi (Stormers), 3. Nyakane, 4. Snyman (Both Bulls), 5. Mostert (Lions), 6. Kolisi (Captain/Stormers), 7. JL du Preez (Sharks) 8. Vermeulen (Toulon)
van der Merwe (Sharks), Kitshoff (Stormers), Louw (Stormers)/T.du Toit (Sharks, P-S.du Toit, Notshe (Both Stormers), van Zyl (Bulls), Jantjies (Lions) & Gelant (Bulls)
It’s fair to say that before 2018, England were challenging the All Blacks for top spot in the World Rugby Rankings, but injuries, training controversies and incorrect selections has meant that England have lost their last 3 games of the Six Nations as well as losing a high-scoring affair to the Barbarians at Twickenham.
In response to the worst Six Nations performance in 3 decades, Jones has caved into pressure to call up Danny Cipriani, but the fact that he has been named as fullback in the squad and not flyhalf is still not good enough for some fans. But the most important selection, or rather employment, has been the appointment of an attack coach – yes finally an attack coach. In attack, England were shocking during the Six Nations and Scott Wisemantel is a very good choice, he has worked with Jones before and has promised to stand up to him (brave fella!). England have a wealth of playmakers in the team, Ford, Farrell, Cipriani, Slade, Lozowski, and have the finishing prowess in the wings, so I hope Wisemantel will be able to unleash their abilities to absolutely smash their opponents out of the park.
The naming of a proper specialist openside in Tom Curry is very much welcome, but he can’t do all the ruck-clearing, Robshaw and the second-rowers will have to do their bit as well to ensure quick ball and momentum.
The decision again to play Brown on the left wing baffles me, England might have had some defensive issue in that position over the past season but I wouldn’t say it was the catalyst for England’s downturn, but then Brown was ripped to shreds by the Toulon-fuelled Barbarian backs two Saturdays ago, and although he played at wing in the greatest win of the Lancastrian Era (v the All Blacks in 2012), that was more down to the heroics of Manu Tuilagi then down to Brown.
Also, some selections on the bench have befuddled me slightly too, Marler over Ellis Genge completely contradicts Jones’ finisher strategy as Marler is nowhere near as good as an impact player as Genge. Genge is also a far superior scrummager to Marler too. It annoys me how everyone goes with the tried and tested in, well, just sport, why can’t a coach just pick players on form?
Injury to Launchbury has forced Jones’ hand with Nick Isiekwe making his first (and well-deserved start) for England. When he was first capped last summer, I wondered why he was in there (at the time I thought that Dom Barrow and Charlie Matthews were more deserving of a call up) but since then he has grown on me a little bit and I now do believe he is an international class act.
I think England have to have to keep the ball in play as much as possible against a side who has the firepower to dominate at setpiece. Mako Vunipola was legendary in the Premiership final but I’m not certain that he will be dominating proceedings especially if the up-and-coming Wilco Louw gets to play. I’m sorry but there is no way that Kyle Sinckler is going to be able to topple the Beast at scrum time, I’m not expecting an absolute beat up reminiscent of 2009 (whether it was legal or not doesn’t really matter) but I still expect Mtawirira to be on top in the scrum.
The truth is that Jones never solved England’s problems, he just papered over the cracks, and if the Aussie isn’t careful those cracks are going to cause the rocky foundations of the England team to fall deep into the chasms! There are 15 months until the World Cup, and England have to start getting their act together, there’s no two ways about it to be honest.
Brown (Harlequins), May (Leicester), Slade (Exeter), Farrell (Saracens), Daly, Ford, Youngs (Both Leicester), M.Vunipola, George (Both Saracens), Sinckler (Harlequins), Itoje, Isiekwe (Both Saracens), Robshaw (Harlequins), Curry (Sale), B.Vunipola (Saracens)
Cowan-Dickie (Exeter), Marler (Harlequins), Williams (Exeter) , Shields (Wasps/Hurricanes), Hughes (Wasps), Spencer (Saracens), Francis (Northampton), Solomona (Sale)
All eyes on
For South Africa, my eye is on Faf de Klerk, he has had a magnificent debut season with Sale earning him both a berth on mine and the official team of the season. But will he light up the stage in a Springbok jersey like his magnificent performance vs Ireland in 2016? His energy and speed to the breakdown will add spice to South Africa’s attack and unpredictability could really make things interesting. There’s no point just throwing a huge forward at him either, he was one tough Afrikaner and will not be shackled easily in defence. However the majority of the England players have played against him in the Premiership this season so perhaps will know if de Klerk is going to try to pull off a trick. We will have to see.
For England, my eyes are on Jamie George. I have been very critical of him recently, at the moment he just looks like a big man with speed who offers zilch in the close tight contact areas. In my opinion, he has fallen short on both occasions when Jones gave him the starting jersey against Samoa and France. True I’ve seen the stats, he makes a significant impact compared with Hartley every time he has played for England but let’s be honest I (a teenage lock-forward) could make a better contribution in a England shirt than Hartley on the field (probably not off-it though). It’s time for George to show that he isn’t as fatigued as everyone thinks he is post Lions tour, and with the very unfortunate injury of Malcolm Marx, this is the chance for George to really shine in the No.2 jersey.
Head to head
Ben Youngs vs Faf de Klerk will be a crucial head-to-head in terms of which team gets the better ball delivery, Youngs can be known to be quite slow at the breakdown while his compatriot is also known to be too fast. An interesting head-to-head too at fullback with Wasps teammates Willie le Roux and Elliot Daly lining up against each other at fullback. Meanwhile in the forwards the battle of the gainline will be fought primarily between the returning Billy Vunipola (absent from the international scene in over a year) and the robust Duane Vermeulen (one of the experienced players in this South African side).
Both teams are not in good form at the moment, but as I support both sides I will be a happy man whatever the result. South Africa are lacking some of their most potent personnel to take down England while the recent upturn in form for Saracens (who provide a key proportion of the team) should boost English morale. I don’t expect an easy-on-the-eye game to follow suit, any side who is going to win will win by few points. I suspect home advantage, history and the return of de Klerk and le Roux should be enough for the Boks to grind out a win. South Africa by 3
By Jacob Bassford
Stand by for Hutch’s predictions for all the International matches this weekend, and see whether he agrees with Jacob.