England vs Springboks: Five talking points ahead of Saturday’s Test at Twickenham

Five talking points as England take on South Africa in their Quilter International at Twickenham, live on Sky Sports Action and Sky Sports Main Event from 2pm on Saturday.

Harassing the No 9

With Faf de Klerk unavailable due to this fixture falling outside the Test window, the onus is now on No 9 Ivan van Zyl to set the tempo for the Springboks.

Van Zyl was a surprise selection given that Embrose Papier deputised for De Klerk in five of the six Rugby Championship games this year, but Rassie Erasmus says the decision to go with Van Zyl was dictated by the conditions and the opposition.

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“I just think conditions and the tactical way England will play, maybe Ivan is a better fit for the start,” said Bok coach Erasmus.

“Embrose is a more instinctive player which is great on the hard ground, and he’ll definitely have an impact on this game. But I thought in these conditions and the way we want to play against England it was worth going with Ivan.”

Earlier in the week, Stuart Barnes spoke about how important it will be for England to stop the Boks getting any clean ball, citing the relatively inexperienced scrum-halves in the squad – there are eight Test caps between the three No 9s on this tour – as potential targets.

“Without Faf de Klerk there, huge pressure is going to come onto Handre Pollard at fly-half because the gap between their first-choice No 9 and the second choice seems so great,” said Barnes on Wednesday.

“If England can get to Pollard then they can break the rhythm of the South Africa midfield. For me, that is where one of England’s biggest chances resides – build the pressure on their No 10, who at his best is world class.”

Back-row battle

In contrast to the No 9 position, the Boks have much more international experience in the back row than Saturday’s hosts. The England loose forwards have 10 caps between them; four apiece for Tom Curry and No 8 Mark Wilson, and two for Brad Shields who made his debut earlier this year.

“We’re missing 400 caps,” said Eddie Jones, whose options were severely limited by injuries to the likes of Billy Vunipola and Chris Robshaw, and a ban picked up by Nathan Hughes. “You don’t just replace 400 caps overnight. It’s probably the most inexperienced pack England have had for a long time.”

The South Africa loose forwards have exactly 100 caps between them, with Warren Whiteley’s 21 caps making him the least experienced of the three.

However, Erasmus said experience is not the only factor in Saturday’s game, and highlighted Tom Curry’s performance in Cape Town – where England beat the Springboks in the third Test in June – as a positive side to the unknown.

“I wouldn’t say they have a weakness; maybe us not knowing them so well might be to their advantage,” Erasmus said.

“It’s not people you see every weekend at Test-match level. There’s a few new faces we haven’t faced before, but doing our homework on them, they look quality players.

“If you underestimate the new names, they bite you. Curry we didn’t know that well in June: we knew he was good over the ball, we knew he had a twin brother – but that’s about all we knew about him.

“And then he really got stuck in there at Newlands, he was one of the big, big reasons why we lost that Test match.”

The Farrell edge

Jones believes the aggression of “spiritual leader” Owen Farrell will serve England well at Twickenham.

Farrell, who led England in the absence of regular skipper Dylan Hartley during that 2-1 series loss in South Africa over the summer, finds himself in the unusual position of co-captain alongside the hooker, who is now fit following a concussion injury that ruled him out of the tour.

Goalkicker Farrell has been switched to the pivotal position of fly-half for just the third time since Australian coach Jones’ reign as England boss started two years ago. The 27-year-old has spent a large part of his England career at inside centre, with childhood friend George Ford at fly-half.

But Farrell, a stand-off with English champions Saracens, will be in the playmaking role this weekend, and will have Ben Te’o alongside him in a midfield featuring Henry Slade, with Ford on the bench.

“We know what George and Owen can do,” said Jones. “I wanted to see the difference it makes playing Owen at 10 with bigger centres.

“Owen’s a good decision-maker and he has a very good tactical kicking game. He’s a bit of a spiritual leader in our side so being close to the action will help in that regard.”

Farrell is the son of former England dual code international Andy Farrell, and Jones added: “He’s from good stock and he’s an aggressive competitor.”

Bok back three and the high ball

The Springbok back three is an explosive unit. Aphiwe Dyantyi has been nominated as one of three Breakthrough Players of the Year by World Rugby, while S’bu Nkosi scored twice on his debut against England five months ago.

Damian Willemse, making his first start for South Africa, gave a glimpse of his capabilities in the Rugby Championship, stepping his way through the New Zealand defence at one point.

However, the problem for Erasmus’ side is that his three electric backs are all in their first year of international rugby, boasting only nine Tests between them.

In the June series Nkosi and Dyantyi benefited from the calm presence of Willie le Roux at full-back, and without the Wasps man there due to domestic commitments, England are likely to target the Bok back three with plenty of high balls.

Erasmus conceded it was a big call to play all three young players together, but says it is time to see how Willemse fares under the pressure of starting a big Test match.

“We’ve always had Willie le Roux available and that’s a luxury to have,” said Erasmus. “Luckily Damian has been with us for most of the Test matches now, I think he’s very comfortable in the whole set-up.

“Somewhere you have to start a Test match, and I don’t think it gets much bigger than Twickenham against England.

“He’s going to play in front of a full house with lots of pressure and a tough kicking game, so we’ll learn a lot about him and he deserves his chance.”

Locks and lineouts

The battle between the two second rows is one of the most evenly-matched of the day, and is likely to provide plenty of enticing sub-plots for the purists of the game.

British and Irish Lions Maro Itoje and George Kruis will come up against Eben Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph du Toit, in what will be the best pound-for-pound battle on the pitch; Etzebeth and Itoje providing the power for their respective sides, and Kruis and Du Toit taking charge of the lineouts.

Itoje and Kruis have a wealth of experience playing alongside each other for club and country, while Etzebeth and Du Toit were widely touted to be the second-row combination that would replace the void left by Bakkies Botha and Victor Matfield.

In recent times Du Toit has mostly been employed as a blindside flanker, six of his eight starts in 2018 coming on the side of the scrum.

It was as a loose forward that Du Toit had one of his worst days in the office; purchasing a pair of dummies from Ben Youngs which resulted in easy tries as England ran out comfortable winners at Twickenham in November 2016, but the 26-year-old is back to his preferred position, with his Stormers team-mate alongside him, and with two more years of international rugby under his belt.

While the battle between the starters is fairly even, when it comes to the bench, South Africa have a clear edge. England have Charlie Ewels among their replacements, featuring in his seventh Test, while the Boks have Lood de Jager – South Africa Player of the Year in 2016 – and the giant RG Snyman to call upon.

If the game is close near the end, and it is dictated by the forwards, the Boks may have a slight advantage at Twickenham on Saturday afternoon.


England: 15 Elliot Daly, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Ben Te’o, 11 Jonny May, 10 Owen Farrell (co-capt), 9 Ben Youngs; 1 Alec Hepburn, 2 Dylan Hartley (co-capt), 3 Kyle Sinckler, 4 Maro Itoje, 5 George Kruis, 6 Brad Shields, 7 Tom Curry, 8 Mark Wilson.

Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 Ben Moon, 18 Harry Williams, 19 Charlie Ewels, 20 Zach Mercer, 21 Danny Care, 22 George Ford, 23 Chris Ashton.

South Africa: 15 Damian Willemse, 14 Sbu Nkosi, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Ivan van Zyl; 1 Steven Kitshoff, 2 Malcolm Marx, 3 Frans Malherbe; 4 Eben Etzebeth, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit; 6 Siya Kolisi (C), 7 Duane Vermeulen, 8 Warren Whiteley.

Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Thomas du Toit, 18 Wilco Louw, 19 RG Snyman, 20 Lood de Jager, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Andre Esterhuizen.

#Followtherose this autumn with all of England’s Tests live on Sky Sports throughout November. The action starts on Saturday, November 3 against South Africa before clashes against New Zealand, Japan and Australia.

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