Craig Lewis

Boks can target embattled England

The Springboks hunt down England fullback Mike Brown The Springboks hunt down England fullback Mike Brown

England’s dramatic fall from grace should provide an ideal opportunity for the Springboks to make a successful start to the Rassie Erasmus era in June, writes CRAIG LEWIS.

Just a few weeks ago, Bok fans would have viewed the three-Test series against England with immense trepidation. Before the end of February, there had still been no official confirmation of the Bok coaching setup for 2018 and beyond, while England remained firmly entrenched in second place in the world rankings.

However, a lot has changed since then. The unveiling of Erasmus as the new Bok coach has generally been met with newfound optimism, while England have recently slipped to shock back-to-back defeats against Scotland and France.

Suddenly, there are some serious question marks surrounding the 'all-mighty' England side that just 12 months ago reached a run of 18 consecutive Test wins and clinched the Six Nations title for the second year in a row. That honeymoon period is now well and truly over, and Jones knows it.

‘We are not adapting to the referee’s interpretation at the ruck as well as we should. They are painful lessons at the moment,’ he commented candidly after Saturday’s humbling defeat to France.

‘It’s a problem we’ve got to fix. It’s a sizeable, but fixable problem. We can address it and keep getting better at it, but the reality is that we probably won’t get better at it until the World Cup.

‘We just have to assess where we go with the team, the game has changed and we’re not necessarily well equipped to handle it so we’ve got to find different ways of how we’re going to handle it.’

WATCH: France vs England highlights

It’s clear that Jones has realigned his goals to focus on an 18-month turnaround plan, aimed at ensuring England can avoid further humiliation at the 2019 World Cup.

Jones knows the heat is on, and is fully aware that the British media will play their part in turning up the pressure cooker should England slump to defeat against newly crowned champions Ireland this weekend. Not since 2006 have England lost three games in the same Six Nations, but that's now the unwanted record that looks set to blight Jones' copybook.

It all means that an England squad at the end of a long European season will travel to South Africa later this year in a very different frame of mind to that what may have been initially expected.

If Jones’ comments can be taken at face value, it appears that he will use the June series to test out some new players, while aiming to alter a style of play that has clearly become a bit stale. The Boks should know there is blood in the water and should be ready and willing to pile on the punishment.

Of course, the Springboks’ first Test under Erasmus will be against Wales in Washington on 2 June, but he has already hinted that they will take a somewhat experimental squad across to America. The real focus will be on the England series, and preparations for this three-Test battle have been well underway since Erasmus assumed his post last year.

When the new Bok coach fronted up to the local media for the first time earlier this year, he insisted that the team would be ready by June, and even referenced the 2012 series win over the same opposition when Heyneke Meyer had just taken up the top job.

In a sense, the Springboks can go into this series with little to lose. England are set to drop to third in the world rankings, but the Springboks still dwell down in sixth place.

It will present the opportunity for the hosts to insist that England are favourites, while knowing that any signs of improvement will be celebrated as a success by a rugby public that has dramatically lowered its expectations over the past two years.

Erasmus has come into the Bok coaching cauldron, but has a very clear vision about how he aims to go about his business, and will shake things up with a streamlined approach that he believes will make the Springboks great again (if you’ll excuse the Donald Trump paraphrase).

Erasmus is set to drive the national team in a new direction, while bringing in different players, and it’s the sort of fresh approach that has the potential to breathe new life into the Springboks.

By all accounts, the ingredients are there for Erasmus to begin his own honeymoon phase, just at a time when Jones and England have hit a rocky patch that has thrown their status into question. 

Photo: Gerry Penny/EPA

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