What the English newspapers are saying ahead of the Test at Twickenham on Saturday.
Game day is here, and for the Springboks, this is the biggest game of their four-Test tour to Europe. While it’s clear the England rugby community still view the clash with South Africa as significant, this Test hasn’t been hyped to the extent of last week’s battle involving the All Blacks.
What there is in abundance is talk of a desperate England team that simply has to win at Twickenham today. All of the big English papers have focused on the significance of the result, and what a loss could mean for Stuart Lancaster’s side just a year out from the 2015 World Cup.
The Daily Mail has dedicated four pages to the match at Twickenham, as well as a small piece on the backpage titled ‘Let’s give Boks our backlash’. The headline inside this edition is much more emphatic: ‘Time to stop the rot lads’, the inference being England need to break their winless streak against the Boks. The paper has also run an interesting infographic, which confirms there's not much between the teams in terms of weight and height. However, the Boks boast a collective 435 caps, while England only have 236 between them.
'Guts up front and speed in the backs can tame brutal Boks’ is the title of Clive Woodward’s pre-match analysis in today’s Mail. The former England coach says the team that handles the pressure better will win. ‘This is the perfect game for them – everybody knows what is coming at them today, nothing flash is needed in defence other than sheer guts and bravery. Deliver that and England will win’.
Woodward lauds the Boks’ physicality at the gainline, but believes ‘their predictability makes them totally beatable. The key is to stretch them and move the ball away from the breakdown swiftly … I hope to see lots of dummy runners too – because you absolutely know the South Africans will take the contact. They can’t help themselves’. An overly aggressive approach by the Boks could also result in a yellow or red card. ‘South Africa don’t have a history of handling pressure well when they’re backed into a corner … one or two players could cross the line’. Woodward says England want this game more, and that should see them home.
‘We owe the nation’, declares the headline on the front of the sport section in today’s Daily Telegraph. This paper boasts the most extensive pre-match coverage, eight pages in all. That front page features a picture of one of the columnists, scrumhalf Danny Care, who ‘vows to repay the faith of Lancaster and Twickenham crowd today’.
Inside the sports section, Care writes: ‘There comes a time when learning has to take a back seat and you have to start delivering results against the big teams’. He goes on to speak about his tactical kicking and how the Boks will test England in that department. He also notes that kicking should not be premeditated and that certain things need to be achieved (forward dominance, and players getting into position to chase the kick) for a tactical probe to be effective.
Care gives the opposing halfback combination of Cobus Reinach and Pat Lambie their due as dangerous attacking players. He does admit that England will look to pressure Reinach, who will be making his first Test start for South Africa. Ireland succeeded in pressuring the Bok forwards and scrumhalf Francois Hougaard in Dublin last week.
‘England promise “backlash” but must beware the Boklash’ writes Mick Cleary in the same paper. Cleary says there is a ‘feeling that this England team is approaching judgement point. The sense of deflation felt at the final whistle against the All Blacks needs to be dissipated by a performance of note if the feel-good vibe is to be restored’. Cleary adds that heart and grunt will only get England so far, and that they will need to be tactically smart if they’re to outplay the No 2 side in the world.
Will Greenwood reveals ‘How England can surprise the Springboks’ in today’s Telegraph. ‘The battle for aerial superiority and knowing the touchline will be a friend will be crucial’ he says.
Greenwood also believes the Boks may be susceptible at the breakdown having witnessed their performance in Dublin. An intense performance by England in this area will not only pressure the Bok loose forwards but the scrumhalf as well, and ‘if England break the link that the scrumhalf provides, they can deny the Springboks momentum’. Greenwood’s final word is that England will win by seven.
Owen Slot, in today’s edition of the Times, fears this England side may fall short again. ‘They are presently clutching at superior opposition and it does not look as though they are getting closer to success,' he writes. Slot wonders if the younger players will do the job for the hosts on Saturday, and what Lancaster and England will do if the game ends in defeat.
Other analysts for the Times focus on what England need to do to avoid that outcome. Ben Kay says England will need to improve their defence, which was poor against New Zealand. Paul Ackford doubts whether Owen Farrell has the skill or the temperament to be an outstanding international flyhalf, and says the player has a point to prove against the Boks.
By Jon Cardinelli