Eddie Jones’ England go in search of their first win over the Springboks, and the country’s first victory against South Africa since almost a decade ago. On the other side of this fascinating contest, the men in green are hoping to put their so-far poor 2016 behind them with a galvanising performance at Twickenham.
Coach Allister Coetzee has made ten changes from the team that drew 31-31 with the Barbarians last weekend, with Beast Mtawarira, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Rudy Paige, Pat Lambie and Francois Venter being the only individuals to avoid the axe.
In the forwards, England will face a powerful backrow trio of Du Toit – moving from lock to flanker, Willem Alberts and Warren Whiteley.
The bulk continues in the second row with giants Lood de Jager and Eben Etzebeth forming a formidable partnership.
In the backs, Francois Venter will be making his first test start this weekend, in a new centre partnership with Damian de Allande. The Springboks have plenty of pace and guile in their back three unit of Ruan Combrinck, the experienced older head of JP Pietersen and the brilliantly talented and Wasps-bound Willie le Roux.
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With South Africa going for power up front, England’s defence will be severely tested and at the breakdown recalled Tom Wood will need to work in an effective partnership with stalwart blindside flanker Chris Robshaw to ensure they gain at the very least parity if not dominance, as well as in the set-piece.
With regular second rows Maro Itoje and George Kruis both injured and out of the entire autumn internationals programme, England are lucky enough to be able to call on the talents of Joe Launchbury and Courtney Lawes, who until recent seasons would have been England’s first choice lock pairing.
George Ford and Owen Farrell continue their 10/12 axis – a consistent feature of the Eddie Jones era – but Jones has tinkered with his back division and has brought in the pace and elusive footwork of Wasps’ Elliot Daly, replacing Bath’s Jonathan Joseph.
Whilst both players have their similarities, Joseph has proven to be one of England’s best defenders in recent fixtures and Daly will need to put in an impressive shift when not with the ball to keep the 13 jersey for next week’s fixture against Fiji.
However, the weather forecast for this afternoon is suggesting overcast and rainy conditions, which may limit the ambition of both sets of backs. Daly has quite a boot on him, and having this in tandem with the pinpoint accuracy of both Ford and Farrell may come in handy for England.
The back three of May, Yarde and Brown has a lot to prove with injuries to regulars Anthony Watson and Jack Nowell, but also the form pair of Semesa Rokoduguni and Alex Goode both missing out on selection. Keep a very close eye on Jonny May in particular – his is an out-and-out reputation pick with the Gloucester flier having only a few games under his belt since returning from a long-term injury.
Although England v South Africa fixtures are always fiery, ferocious and fiesty, England will go into the game as favourites despite their lack of success against the Springboks in recent times, whereas last weekend’s draw to the Baa Baas was yet another poor performance from Coetzee’s men this season that has seen them humbled by New Zealand and lose out to Ireland at home for the first time in their history.
Expect grit, determination and pragmatism this afternoon in a contest that could very well be determined by the success of the set piece.
Although South Africa have stuck to their traditional strengths with the line-up selected, England are at home and feeling confident after nine victories in a row under Jones (ten including the win over Uruguay in 2015) and despite several key injuries have enough depth to contain a less than vintage Springboks outfit.
Pundit Arena Prediction: England by 5-10 points.
Paul Wassell, Pundit Arena
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