Both the Springboks and England will head into the three-Test series desperate for any sort of success, writes JON CARDINELLI.
The Rassie Erasmus-era kicked off this past Saturday with a disappointing 22-20 defeat to Wales in Washington DC. With that result, Erasmus became the second Bok coach in the professional era – after Allister Coetzee – to lose the first Test of his tenure.
The Boks were out-muscled and out-thought by a street-smart Welsh outfit. One wonders whether the tactics will change over the next few days, and whether some of those players will shrug off the effects of travel fatigue to perform in the clash against England at Ellis Park.
The fixture in Washington DC served a financial purpose. That said, many have questioned the decision to stage such a game a mere seven days before a big series between the Boks and England. Those questions and criticisms will continue if England go on to claim their first series win on South African soil.
There’s been a lot of hype around the Boks over the past six months. It’s hoped that Erasmus, who resurrected the Stormers in 2008 and Irish club Munster in 2016, will turn things around.
Many in South Africa feel he is up to the task. One newspaper in England has gone as far to say that the Boks boast a ‘rejuvenated’ look now that Erasmus is at the helm.
Meanwhile, coach Eddie Jones has been derided at home and abroad following his team’s three consecutive losses in the 2018 Six Nations tournament. This despite the fact that England have won 24 out of 28 Tests and claimed two Six Nations titles since Jones came to power.
Compare that record to South Africa’s during the same period. The Boks slumped to a third successive loss against Wales last Saturday. Overall, they’ve managed 11 wins in 35 Tests since the start of the 2016 season.
A host of England stars will miss the three-Test series in South Africa. Dylan Hartley, Dan Cole, Courtney Lawes, Danny Care, Jonathan Joseph, Manu Tuilagi and Anthony Watson are some of the names that may have featured in England’s match-day squad if not for injuries.
History is on the Boks’ side when one considers that England have never won a Test series in South Africa. In fact, England have won a paltry three Tests against the Boks in this part of the world. The last time they tasted victory here was in 2000.
It’s a tough place for northern hemisphere teams to tour. The Boks have never lost a home series to any one of England, Ireland, Scotland or Wales. The last time a side from the north prevailed in these climes was when the British & Irish Lions triumphed 2-1 in 1997.
That said, the Boks have been in decline for some time. They suffered their first-ever defeat to Ireland in South Africa two years ago.
While they bossed France (in four Tests) and Italy last season, they have been less successful against the home nations over the past two years. They were hammered 37-21 in their 2016 meeting with England at Twickenham.
A series win against England would provide South African rugby with a much-need boost. The Boks are no quick fix, but a big victory against the No 3 side in the world would inspire some hope ahead of the more challenging Rugby Championship clashes and the 2019 World Cup.
The pressure has been building on Jones for some time. A historic series win for his team in South Africa would keep the critics at bay.
There’s no getting around the fact that the Boks are on the back foot. The recent fixture against Wales in far-flung Washington DC has done the players and coaches no favours.
One also needs to remember that several of the players who didn’t travel to the USA – Aphiwe Dyantyi, S’bu Nkosi, Lukhanyo Am and RG Snyman – will go into the first Test against England with little to no experience at this level. Erasmus won’t have the luxury of picking established combinations in a game that could set the tone for the rest of the series.
There’s a lot at stake for both teams this June. England will feel that they have a point to prove after a dismal Six Nations campaign, while the Boks will want to show all and sundry that they still have what it takes to beat one of the world’s best Test sides.
HEAD TO HEAD IN SOUTH AFRICA
Springboks 9, England 3, Draw 1
LAST FIVE MEETINGS IN SOUTH AFRICA
Springboks 14 England 14 (Port Elizabeth, 2012)
Springboks 36 England 27 (Johannesburg, 2012)
Springboks 22 England 17 (Durban, 2012)
Springboks 55 England 22 (Pretoria, 2007)
Springboks 58 England 10 (Bloemfontein, 2007)
Photo: Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images/Warren Little/Getty Images