‘Meyer expecting trial side to triumph’

What the English newspapers are saying ahead of the Test at Twickenham on Saturday.

Last week in Dublin, the Irish press couldn’t write enough about the big Test at the Aviva Stadium, or the improvement of Heyneke Meyer’s Springboks. The coverage by the English newspapers this week has been very different. It seems all the hype and purple prose was exhausted in the buildup to the previous game involving the All Blacks. There is little left for the coming slugfest between England vs South Africa. It's disappointing.

Today’s edition of the Times has run four rugby stories focused on Saturday’s game. Meyer has made five changes to the starting side for this Test, and has explained that these selections were made before the tour commenced. Owen Slot views this as overconfidence.

'Heyneke Meyer is so confident about his team’s ability to beat England at Twickenham on Saturday that he has employed a rotation policy in selection and intends to use the fixture as a a trial game to test his players’ suitability for his World Cup squad next year,’ writes Slot. ‘It is a curious twist in the dynamic of an international match, but South Africa still expect to win. No excuses’.

In the article ‘Robshaw stresses value of intensity in his team’s preparations’, the England captain speaks about handling the pressure in these big games, and what the hosts will need to do against a team like the Boks. ‘There’s a physicality that South Africa bring. Defensively, we need to front up, and in attack we’ve got to look after the ball. They are probably the best pack in the world in terms of the set pieces, their maul and their carrying work. It’s probably the biggest challenge we could face’.

Jonny May won’t grab a try like that against us’ is the headline in the Daily Telegraph. The statement was made by Bryan Habana on Wednesday after he was asked to comment on the try scored against the All Blacks.

Mick Cleary heaps the praise on the veteran Bok winger, and describes him as ‘naturally fast but sharp too … and his timing of the leap for the high ball is second to none, a skill that England would do well to study’. Cleary notes how the Boks’ back three will boast more experience than that of England. The writer has also focused on the Boks’ recent record at Twickenham, and how it's no longer a venue where Boks fear to tread.

The Telegraph has run a photo of referee Nigel Owens on the front of its sports section. ‘Unacceptable: RFU in Twickenham crowd probe as referee hits out at homophobic abuse’ reads the headline.

Inside, the paper reveals how the openly gay official was abused during the recent game at Twickenham by a group of England supporters. Owens told the Telegraph that he welcomed the investigation but had considered quitting because of increasing level of homophobic abuse in stadiums and on social media. Owens has suggested that the RFU officials ban these offenders from Twickenham for life.

The Guardian has focused on Wednesday’s press conference with the Bok coach. In ‘Meyer rejects notion of Twickenham as World Cup dry run’, an explanation for the selections is provided. Owen Gibson writes that ‘Meyer has spent two years building a side that plays a more attractive brand of free-flowing rugby, with Willie le Roux among those coming to the fore. Meyer stressed, however, that his side has to be less casual in possession and better at capitalising on opportunities than they were against the Irish [in Dublin last week]'.

Most of the English pressmen have mentioned Habana’s comment about Toulon loose forward Steffon Armitage in their coverage. The Daily Mail has dedicated a double-page spread to the story. ‘You’re mad not to pick Steffon’ the headline screams, presumably at the RFU and coach Stuart Lancaster who aren't keen on selecting players based abroad.

Habana was asked whether Armitage should be included in the England set-up despite playing his club rugby in France. Predictably, Habana, a South African who plays club rugby overseas but features regularly for his national side, answered in the affirmative.

By Jon Cardinelli

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