Autumn Nations Series England vs South Africa Preview
Autumn Nations Series England vs South Africa Preview
England and South Africa go head-to-head in a clash that will go a long way to defining whether this season has been a success or failure for both sides.
As quickly as it came, it went. The 2022 Autumn Nations Series delivered some of the very best Rugby action we have seen in years as the World’s top Rugby nations continued their build up to Rugby World Cup 2023.
Across four weeks Rugby fans were treated to unrivalled action that included incredible comebacks, major upsets and a reminder that very little separates the sides.
Whilst the majority of teams have bid adieu to 2022 there remains two big fixtures to close out the Rugby year once and for all.
The second of those fixtures is a rematch between the 2019 World Cup finalists England and South Africa in a clash that will go a long way to defining whether this season has been a success or failure for both sides.
So let’s dive right into the action and see how the two sides shape up ahead of Saturday’s 5.30pm local time kick-off.
In international Rugby there are a number of grudge matches that feature England in no small part due to the country’s colonial history.
No clash at Twickenham is bigger however than when the Springboks are in town with the two nations enjoying an incredibly close fought series over the years at “The Home of Rugby”.
Coming into this weekend’s match up, the two sides are tied at eleven wins a piece with a singular draw at Twickenham whilst South Africa hold the advantage overall 26 – 16 across all venues.
Historically the two sides are renowned for their physicality and this year is no different with both sides possessing monstruous packs that are the equal of any in the game. Whilst their backlines are sprinkled with quick strike runners and creative masterminds in the halfback positions.
Interestingly it is not just stylistically where the two sides match up, both coaching staffs have been clear in their singular focus of developing squad depth ahead of next year’s World Cup.
Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber in conjunction with Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus have at times caught heat for their insistence on rotating their squad throughout this year. This policy has yielded mixed results with the highs of pummelling the All Blacks in round one of the Rugby Championship being matched by losses to the same foes a week later as well as a historic first ever loss to Wales in South Africa.
Eddie Jones too has come in for a lot of criticism for his continued tweaking of the England squad as he seemingly remains undeterred by several rugby experts calling for him to pick players who would appear to be in better form rather than those that fit his system.
Whilst both sets of coaching staffs have come in for criticism it is worth bearing in mind that these two sides contested the 2019 World Cup final using a similar rotational policy.
Springbok Team News
Both sides have once again rotated their squad from last week, for the Boks this was done more out of being forced to rather than out of choice. Unfortunately for Nienaber and the Boks this clash falls outside of the international test window and as such European based players are not available for selection as they returned to their clubs.
Such is the depth in this Bok squad that even with the rotations the players selected are of an incredibly high standard.
In the pack breakout star Evan Roos gets the nod at number eight with Jasper Wiese heading back to Leicester Tigers whilst Test centurion Eben Etzebeth returns in the secondrow. On the bench Thomas Du Toit comes in for Vincent Koch with backrow Marco van Staden joining him as the final forward’s change.
Out in the backline, superstar wing Cheslin Kolbe has returned to Toulon whilst Andre Esterhuizen and Cobus Reinach have returned to Montpellier and Harlequins respectively. In their places come Makazole Mapimpi, Jesse Kriel and Jaden Hendrikse.
Speaking about the changes, Bok coach Nienaber said, "With this Test falling outside the international Test window, we knew we would have to make changes to the team, but we are pleased with the depth we have built in the wider squad in the last few months, and it is paying off for us this week."
"Every player in this squad has played Test rugby, and most of them have received game time at this level thanks to our selection plan throughout the season and the games against Munster and Bristol.
"We are very excited to see what this group of players will do against a quality England side given the mix of talented young players who have been putting up their hands and the experienced guys who have come a long way with us over the last few years."
Nienaber went on to acknowledge that this November series has been a series of tough battles having fallen to both Ireland and France before beating Italy. As his side gears up to tackle England, he highlighted that this weekend would be another titanic struggle.
"As with all competitions we can only select a limited number of players, so we have had to be creative with balancing building player combinations and giving the young players a chance to show us what they can do at top Test level and this game gives us a golden opportunity to do so.
"It doesn't get bigger than playing against England at a packed Twickenham in the last Test of the season for a player, and one can sense the excitement among the players about this occasion.
"England will enter this match with the same mindset as us - to finish the season on a high note after a tough November campaign, and to build momentum with an eye on the World Cup.
"So, we are expecting them to throw everything they have at us. They are a well-balanced team with a strong pack of forwards and exciting backs, and they are well coached, so we know it is going to be an epic encounter.” Nienaber concluded.
England Team News
Eddie Jones has joined Nienaber in making a number of changes as he reshuffles his side following their chaotic 25 – 25 draws with the All-Blacks last weekend.
In total Jones has made four changes to his side, in the forwards Ellis Genge and Luke Cowan Dickie are pushed to the bench in their place come the Saracens duo of Mako Vunipola and Jamie George.
In the backrow, Sam Simmonds drops to the bench in place of Alex Coles who is brought in as a line-out option to combat the Boks giant jumpers.
Talking about the front row changes, Jones acknowledged how influential South Africa’s famed “Bomb squad” had been in the 2019 final.
Speaking to BBC Five Live, Jones said "The concept of the 'bomb squad' is something we want to experiment with, can we bring a more powerful front row on in the second half?"
"You look at the guys we have got there, Genge, Cowan-Dickie and Will Stuart - that is a powerful front row."
In the backline Tommy Freeman makes his return in place of Jack Nowell who sits on the bench following a tough outing against the All Blacks where he struggled to deal with the Kiwi’s kicking game.
Highlighting Freeman’s role in the squad Jones said the plan was always to bring back the physical Freeman “We always wanted to get him back into the team.”
"We feel he has the potential to go and be a very good player for us. We like that pace in our back three and Tommy adds that." Jones concluded.
Despite a constant discussion around the 10/12 axis of Marcus Smith and Owen Farrell, Jones has persisted with the combination for this weekend. Farrell remains in the inside centre position and captains the side once again.
Joining Smith in the halfbacks, Jack van Poortvliet keeps his starting role ahead of his Leicester Tigers teammate Ben Youngs who was instrumental in England’s comeback last weekend.
Both sides are in desperate need of a victory following a mixed bag of results so far this season.
For the Boks two close losses to two key World Cup rivals in Ireland and France is an incredibly disappointing return. Rebounding by thumping an in-form Italy proves that Nienaber’s side has the capability to be a dominant side even if things haven’t quite clicked just yet.
England too have been disappointing as these lost narrowly to Argentina in round one before hammering Japan. Last weekend’s draw with the All Blacks will raise morale in the squad but has left perhaps more questions than answers.
Outside of the final ten minutes England were not even remotely competitive. The All Blacks shut down their attack as they harassed their set piece and breakdown before torching them out wide. Whether England’s miraculous fight back was down to their excellence or a seeming lack of confidence in the All Blacks at the moment should be revealed this weekend.
Whilst all of the changes will affect the Boks, it is the absence of Rassie Erasmus that could be most telling as he is once again banned from attending the clash due to his social media antics.
In what will be a titanic battle, the Boks forward pack will once again prove to be the difference as Nienaber’s men exact revenge for last season’s defeat. Boks by 2.
England: Steward; Freeman, Tuilagi, Farrell (c), May; Smith, Van Poortvliet; M Vunipola, George, Sinckler, Itoje, Hill, Coles, Curry, B Vunipola.
Replacements: Cowan-Dickie, Genge, Stuart, Ribbans, Simmonds, Youngs, Slade, Nowell.
South Africa: Le Roux; Arendse, Kriel, De Allende, Mapimpi; Willemse, De Klerk; Nche, Mbonambi, Malherbe, Etzebeth, Orie, Kolisi (c), Mostert, Roos.
Replacements: Marx, Kitshoff, Du Toit, Van Staden, Smith, Hendrikse, Libbok, Moodie
Written by Philip Bendon
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