What the English newspapers are saying ahead of the Test between England and South Africa at Twickenham today.
The Springboks trained in cold but clear conditions at Twickenham on Friday afternoon. The weather in London on Saturday morning has, unfortunately, taken a turn for the worse. It’s been raining since the early hours, and more rain is expected during the game itself this afternoon.
The English sport pages are saturated with football content following England’s 3-0 win against Scotland at Wembley on Friday night. That said, the front and back pages have included small reminders of the big rugby clash at Twickenham later today.
‘It’s time to break our Bok curse’ reads the back-page headline of the Daily Mail. ‘There could be red cards in this one’ reads a teaser for Sir Clive Woodward’s column, which is buried deeper inside the sport section.
The paper is clearly expecting an English win at Twickenham today. ‘It’s our turn to bully the Boks’ is the headline of the main rugby piece. ‘Eddie’s men can match South Africa’s muscle to end 10 years of hurt,’ writes rugby correspondent Chris Foy. ‘The pain should stop today.’
In the same paper, Nik Simon has drawn up a form guide for both teams. The Bok ratings appear rather high, considering the team has lost five of its nine Tests in 2016.
Predictably, Eben Etzebeth is ranked the highest of the visitors (8.5/10), and Damian de Allende the lowest (5.5). De Allende is the only player in the starting XV to receive a pre-game rating lower than 6.5. Unbelievably, Pieter-Steph du Toit, South Africa’s standout player in a forgettable year, is only rated 6.5. The Times has done something similar, with Du Toit rated 6 by writer John Westerby.
‘Don’t be shocked to see red cards … it may get VERY tasty’ is the provocative headline of Woodward’s coulmn in the Mail.
Woodward acknowledges that the Boks will provide England with their sternest test of the ‘Autumn’ series. At the same time, the 2003 World Cup-winning coach, who is a close friend of Eddie Jones, is expecting a convincing victory by the hosts.
‘On paper, it should be a 30-point plus win. South Africa’s own fans aren’t even warming to them. The South African press and public don’t pull any punches when it comes to rugby and the players will be under huge pressure to produce a performance against England.
‘The Boks have been building for this game since that humiliating 57-15 defeat to New Zealand six weeks ago and they will have steam coming out of their ears. It could get very tasty and I can see some yellow and possibly red cards being issued. There is only one team and one coach under real pressure and it will be fascinating to see if they can handle it.’
There’s a 12-page rugby pullout in the Times of London today. George Ford and Owen Farrell are on the cover, along with a checklist that reads: ‘Six Nations (check), Aussie whitewash (check), Now end the South Africa jinx’.
Inside, Owen Slot notes that England remain confident and do not regard South Africa as their bogey team. ‘The Springboks may have 10 years of dominance behind them but this team is a pale reflection of those of the last decade.’
In the same paper, former England lock Ben Kays says that ‘Stopping Springboks is like trying to halt a car rolling down a hill'.
Kay does concede, though, that the class of 2016 does not possess the same conviction as that of 2007, which Kay fronted in the 2007 World Cup final. ‘The 2007 team was like us in 2003, bulletproof. I do not see the same confidence about this team.’
In another piece focusing on tactics, Kay breaks down the Bok defence and observes that a number of their tries have been conceded from close range, which is an indictment on their attitude and structure.
The Times has sought out the opinion of two former Boks, Chester Williams and Joel Stransky. Neither ex-Springbok is expecting a Bok win at Twickenham today. Williams foresees the game to go down to the last 10 minutes. Stransky says England may already be good enough to win the next World Cup.
‘Jones raises England’s intensity to plot a path through the snakepit’, reads the headline in The Guardian. ‘Coach’s impact over his first year is plain in tactics, results, and atmosphere – and only the best will do,’ writes Robert Kitson of Jones.
He goes on to say that a loss to South Africa today ‘will be a surprise to anyone who has been in and around the England camp this week’. Meanwhile, Michael Aylwin says, ‘South Africa are besieged by European money and the result is a shattered aura.’
‘We know they are big; dear God they are big,’ Will Greenwood says of the Boks in The Daily Telegraph. ‘It’s scary to think that you will have to drop them to the floor when they are running at full tilt. But that’s what England must do, and before the Twickenham faithful get too heady with the prospects of a relatively easy victory, it’s worth remembering that England have had their own problems, not least of all in the second row.’
Greenwood goes on to highlight what he feels will be a key partnership in Joe Launchbury and Courtney Lawes. ‘Against Ireland last week, the All Blacks were shorn of their first-choice locks, Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock. Ireland were brilliant in many facets, but it was the lineout that sat at the heart of their win over New Zealand.’
Greenwood says that South Africa will look to use the crash ball from the set piece. The former England centre coached the Barbarians backs ahead of their recent clash with the Boks, and was full of praise for Rohan Janse van Rensburg and Francois Venter in the aftermath. Yet, Greenwood feels that De Allende could put England under pressure today and that Farrell will be England’s key man on defence.
According to him, the Boks will target Ford rather than Farrell in the England backline. The visitors will run down Elliot Daly’s channel once the space has been created.
‘This puts huge pressure on Daly’s decision-making in his first start at this level. He must decide whether to jam in, hold his position, or crab wide to help Marland Yarde on the wing.’