Schalk Burger has the grunt and the experience to inspire the Springbok forwards to a game-winning performance at Twickenham this Saturday, writes JON CARDINELLI in London.
This is it. This is effectively the biggest game before the 2015 World Cup. The 2014 Rugby Championship is a thing of the past, as is the battle against Ireland in Dublin. This will be the toughest Test for the Boks before they travel to the global tournament next September.
The clash against England at Twickenham was always going to be the most significant of the Boks’ 2014 tour. The Boks may have lost recently to Ireland, but they will consider their sojourn to Europe successful if they manage to extend their winning run against England at Twickenham.
They won’t be wanting for attitude. Two games remain after this Saturday's battle with England, but those fixtures against Italy and a weakened Wales will not demand the same intensity and bloody-mindedness. There is absolutely no reason to hold back, be it mentally or physically.
Cue the Incredible Schalk, who has long been the go-to man for a clash of this nature. He’s started just one Test since making his return to international rugby, but the Boks will certainly need his unique brand of belligerence from the outset this weekend.
This promises to be an intensely physical clash between two desperate teams. Neither side boasts a full-strength combination, although it’s the Boks who have more quality in reserve.
England are going to test the Boks at scrum time, but don’t have the leadership or the individuals to challenge Victor Matfield at the lineout. South Africa are expecting a direct assault from England: a series of mauls and pick and goes.
The influence of the weather in this part of the world is not to be underestimated, nor is the manner in which the game is managed by the officials. Steve Walsh is a regular on the Super Rugby circuit and familiar to South African players, but likely to allow more of a contest at the scrums and breakdowns this Saturday.
There’s no point moaning about the opposition employing underhanded tactics at the scrum or ruck. The Boks should strive for dominance in these areas. Forget all the talk about quick ball. Focus on providing clean ball for the backline. Clear the likes of Chris Robshaw and Tom Wood away from the ruck, and provide Cobus Reinach and Pat Lambie with time and space to make the decision to kick or pass.
This is where Burger and co will be so important. The Boks planned well for the match in Dublin, but lacked the attitude needed to win the battle at the collisions and on the ground. They missed Willem Alberts in the starting side, but Burger has the physical makeup as well as the experience to play a similar role at Twickenham.
Lambie has shown that he can hold his nerve in the most testing of circumstances. Last month, he slotted the penalty goal that handed the Boks their first victory against New Zealand in three years. He will need to show the same temperament in front of goal this weekend.
What the South African rugby community is still waiting for is the complete showing. The Boks wowed with an improved attacking game during the Rugby Championship, but failed to show the necessary improvements in terms of game management and tactical kicking.
A convincing performance by the men up front will make the lives of Reinach and Lambie easier. South Africa have the heavies to make inroads into an England defence that was suspect in the recent clash against the All Blacks. In doing so, the Bok forwards will also succeed in pressuring the England halfbacks, whose decision-making and tactical kicking in the previous match was woefully below standard.
Had the Boks cruised to victory in Dublin last week, they may have travelled to Twickenham in a more complacent mood. But if the training sessions this past week have been anything to go by, they are an angry bunch with a brutal point to prove. England could well feel that wrath.
Heyneke Meyer has responded to the loss accordingly by drafting Burger and several other physical specimens into the starting lineup. If the Boks succeed in rattling England during the first 40 minutes, the game has the potential to turn into a one-sided rout.
But there will be no such talk within the Bok camp, not after they were humiliated in Dublin last week. They must take every shot on goal, and ensure that they secure the result before cutting loose.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Springboks 22, England 12, Drawn 2
In England: Springboks 10, England 8, Drawn 1
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
2012: Boks won 16-15 (London)
2012: Drawn 14-14 (Port Elizabeth)
2012: Boks won 36-27 (Johannesburg)
2012: Boks won 22-17 (Durban)
2010: Boks won 21-11 (London)
BURGER’S STATS THAT MATTER
31 – The number of minutes he played in Dublin
61 – The number of minutes he played in two Rugby Championship Tests
152 – The number of metres he ran in those two Tests
10 – The number of tackles he made
17 – The number of carries he made
Source: Vodacom Rugby Stats App
England – 15 Mike Brown, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Brad Barritt, 12 Kyle Eastmond, 11 Jonny May, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Danny Care, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Chris Robshaw (c), 6 Tom Wood, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Dave Attwood, 3 David Wilson, 2 Dylan Hartley, 1 Joe Marler.
Subs: 16 Rob Webber, 17 Matt Mullan, 18 Kieran Brookes, 19 George Kruis, 20 Ben Morgan, 21 Ben Youngs, 22 George Ford, 23 Marlon Yarde.
Springboks – 15 Willie le Roux, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jan Serfontein, 12 Jean de Villiers (c), 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Pat Lambie, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Beast Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Bismarck du Plessis, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Coenie Oosthuizen, 19 Bakkies Botha, 20 Teboho Mohoje, 21 Francois Hougaard, 22 Handré Pollard, 23 Cornal Hendricks.
Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images