England have outlined their plans to knock the Springbok ball-carriers back in what could be a physical clash for the ages at Twickenham on Saturday, reports JON CARDINELLI in London.
Eddie Jones understands the South African psyche, having worked with many South African coaches and players over the years. Jones was Jake White’s technical adviser for the duration of what was a successful 2007 World Cup campaign. Subsequently, Jones worked with South African juggernauts such as Fourie du Preez, Danie Rossouw and Schalk Burger at Suntory Sungoliath in Japan.
Jones also presided over what many believe to be the greatest upset in sporting history. Fourteen months ago, a Jones-coached Japan rocked the rugby world when they beat the Boks on the opening weekend of the 2015 World Cup.
The formula for success against the Boks was, in the end, relatively simple. Meet their physical challenge in the opening 20 minutes. Stop them at them gainline by any means necessary – for Japan it was the chop tackle that proved most effective. And finally, ensure that your team has the necessary fitness to maintain the physical effort for 80-plus minutes.
This week, there’s been a lot of talk from the England players and coaches about fronting up to the Boks’ trademark physicality. On Monday, fullback Mike Brown highlighted the opening 20 minutes as game-shaping. Brown said that England needed to make a physical statement against the quintessential hardmen of Test rugby in the opening quarter of the game.
Whether this current crop of Boks is worthy of this reputation is another story. The Boks have failed to dominate the collisions over the past year or so – a failing that has given many reason to bemoan the end of an aura. They have suffered mass injuries in the loose-forward positions. Following the most recent injury to Roelof Smit, the Boks will go into the clash against England without a specialist openside, and without a settled back-row combination.
England have every right to feel there is blood in the water. They have every reason to consider the Boks’ four-from-nine record in 2016, limp physical performances, and lengthy injury list and draw the conclusion that South Africa are there for the taking.
Yet, it seems as if England have done well to remain grounded and focused on the task at hand: a physically dominant performance.
While England have won all nine of their matches in 2016, defence coach Paul Gustard insists that they are not the finished article. That is why Jones has added league coach Jason Ryles, of the Melbourne Storm, to the coaching staff ahead of the coming Test against the Boks.
'Our players will need to be physically and emotionally ready for the type of challenge that the Boks will present,’ Gustard said.
Ben Youngs was more specific. The key to the Boks' 10-year unbeaten run against England has been their dominance at the gainline. It’s something that Jones and his charges have spoken about at length in the buildup to the 12 November clash at Twickenham.
‘They’ve beaten us up physically in past matches,’ Youngs said. ‘In the games I’ve been involved in, it’s never been a case of coming away and feeling you’ve been outclassed. It’s been a case of being beaten at the collisions.
‘We need to make those two-man tackles this Saturday and bring their big guys down. We have to try to physically win the game in the first 20 minutes.
‘In the past, they have been able to get physical dominance early on. It’s like a wave that keeps on coming. They keep on coming around the corner and battering you. When they get front-foot ball early on and build some momentum, they can be difficult to stop.
‘That has to be our focus this weekend. We have to win the collisions and the breakdowns,' added Youngs. 'We can’t overthink it. Again, it will be about the two-man hits, we need to get off the line quickly, and then hit and stick.’
These comments highlight the respect that England have for the Boks’ traditional approach. The reality, unfortunately, is that this depleted South African side is unlikely to meet their usual standards of physicality.
The Boks may have struggled even if Smit was fit and available to start at openside flank. The uncapped Smit was only considered for the role because other fetchers such as Francois Louw, Jaco Kriel, Marcell Coetzee, and even Siya Kolisi have been ruled out with injuries
Several other world-class Bok loose forwards will not feature at Twickenham. Duane Vermeulen, Schalk Burger and Heinrich Brüssow have all been listed as unavailable for the three-Test tour of Europe.
Meanwhile, players who are in the current squad, such as Warren Whiteley and Oupa Mohoje, have failed to impress at the gainline thus far this season. Nizaam Carr has struggled to impose himself at Super Rugby level.
England are taking nothing for granted, though. Jones has insisted that the hosts treat this clash as if it were a battle royale against a full-strength Bok side that favours a traditional power game.
For the Boks, that should be a scary thought. It may not be a case of 'if' England win this Saturday, but 'by how much'.
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