New captain Siya Kolisi says the Springboks will draw inspiration and energy from his favourite Test ground, Ellis Park, on Saturday. JON CARDINELLI reports from Johannesburg.
The Springboks have a proud Test record at Ellis Park. The last time they met England at this venue, in 2012, they won 36-27 and took an unassailable 2-0 lead in the series.
The iconic ground should be close to capacity when the Boks host England for the opener of the 2018 series this weekend. By Friday morning, more than 50,000 tickets had been sold for the fixture.
Most of those fans will be behind the Boks. Kolisi, who was part of the side that fought back to beat Ireland at this ground in 2016, knows all about the Ellis Park aura and how it has helped the hosts to score some unforgettable victories over the years.
‘When I play for my franchise, my favourite ground is Newlands. But when I play for my country, my favourite ground is Ellis Park,’ the Bok captain said on Friday.
‘It’s a special atmosphere. In the past, I’ve looked up into the crowd and have seen people of every race and colour. It’s one of those stadiums [in South Africa] where the national anthem is sung equally [at the same volume] from start to finish.
‘The Boks always turn up at Ellis Park. It’s where we play our best rugby.
‘We shouldn’t want for motivation this Saturday,’ Kolisi added. ‘We play Australia and New Zealand every year in the Rugby Championship. A chance to play England doesn’t come along too often. We have to make this chance count.’
England may face bigger venue-related problems than a hostile atmosphere. The tourists arrived in Johannesburg on Thursday night, and there is a concern that they haven’t given themselves a decent opportunity to adjust to the altitude.
Speaking to the media from the team hotel on Friday afternoon, England assistant coach Steve Borthwick said that the decision to fly up to Johannesburg at this late stage shouldn’t hurt their chances.
‘There are a couple of theories around it. Some get into town early and others only later. We’ve gone for the latter option,’ said Borthwick.
‘We had a training session this morning and it was good to get the guys blowing. They need to understand what it’s going to feel like on Saturday.
‘It’s a privilege to play at the spiritual home of South African rugby,’ he said when asked about the atmosphere at Ellis Park. ‘It’s a passionate South African crowd, but I’m sure there will be a lot of England supporters there on Saturday.
‘All the training is done and dusted. We can’t wait to get stuck in.’
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