An assured Springbok side should head into Saturday’s second Test against England with cautious optimism, writes CRAIG LEWIS in Bloemfontein.
The first 20 minutes of last Saturday’s clash at Ellis Park told the story of a new-look side that still needs some time to gel. Yet, after the Boks fell behind by 21 points, the next 60 minutes said a lot more about the character and ability of a talented team.
The fact that the Boks were able to battle back to claim a memorable victory should ensure that they come into the second Test as a far more calm, composed and confident outfit.
Despite the Springboks’ impressive Ellis Park comeback, though, there has been very little bluster from the Boks this week, with Erasmus and his squad only too aware that they have already played their ‘get out of jail free card’ – as England coach Eddie Jones suggested last Saturday.
The Boks have also acknowledged that they were exposed defensively, and this week it’s been clear to see that this has been a focal point at training as they look to ensure they add better width to their patterns.
The Springboks should be far more organised on defence after another week under the guidance of Jacques Nienaber, while they will be fully aware of the threats that a ball player such as Brad Shields will offer from the get-go.
England’s lineout will also be strengthened by the return of Joe Launchbury, although this should be counter-balanced by the Boks’ decision to start with Pieter-Steph du Toit, who will add an imposing presence at the set pieces.
There was very little that separated the forward packs last weekend, but the Boks reaped the rewards when they were able to generate some front-foot ball, while Faf de Klerk provided slick service and real energy from scrumhalf.
England have made no secret of the fact that they will be looking to cut down De Klerk’s time and space, and the nippy No 9 will know that he is sure to be targeted once again both on and off the ball.
The Boks will need a platform to be laid up front if a talented backline is to once again fire on all cylinders – as they did for much of last Saturday’s clash – and it was no surprise to hear forwards coach Matt Proudfoot calling on the pack to respond to the occasion of Beast Mtawarira’s 100th Test.
Of course, much of the pre-match build-up has revolved around Mtawarira’s milestone, which is sure to serve as an additional incentive for a Bok team that has so often been inspired by the presence of the big man at loosehead prop.
Considering the nature of the occasion, and the Springboks’ burning desire to wrap up the series before heading to Cape Town, it’s fair to say that the home team will not be found wanting for motivation.
Although the Boks have been widely hailed for the manner in which they pulled off a remarkable comeback at Ellis Park, Erasmus has acknowledged that they did not finish the game with momentum on their side.
It’s partly for this reason that he has added athletic centre Jesse Kriel to his bench resources, and the Boks will be looking to their subs to make a meaningful impact by upping the tempo at altitude in the second half.
It’s during this period that the Springboks will be determined to close out another victory that will provide further room for experimentation in the third and final Test of the series.
Springboks – 15 Willie le Roux, 14 S’bu Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (c), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 RG Snyman, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Beast Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Akker van der Merwe, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Thomas du Toit, 19 Sikumbuzo Notshe, 20 Jean-Luc du Preez, 21 Ivan van Zyl, 22 Jesse Kriel, 23 Warrick Gelant.
England – 15 Elliot Daly, 14 Jonny May, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Owen Farrell (c), 11 Mike Brown, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Tom Curry, 6 Brad Shields, 5 Maro Itoje, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Jamie George, 1 Mako Vunipola.
Subs: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Joe Marler, 18 Harry Williams, 19 Mark Wilson 20 Nathan Hughes, 21 Ben Spencer, 22 Danny Cipriani, 23 Denny Solomona.
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