Key Clash Preview: South Africa v England
Date: 9th June 2012
Referee: Steve Walsh
Venue: Kings Park, Durban
It’s a new era for the Bokke following a disappointing Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, with fresh faces, a new coach but you expect the same old tactics on show in Durban this Saturday. Preparation time has been minimal for Heyneke Meyer – the Lions, Sharks, Bulls and Stormers all played each other last weekend – meaning that whilst there are three new caps at 4, 5 and 6 the style South Africa play in will be very familiar.
Opting for experience on the wings despite Bryan Habana and JP Pietersen playing at 13 for most of the season, the Boks will kick-chase effectively down the 15 metre channels as well as looking for supremacy in the set-piece. Picking a brand new second row pairing in Eben Etzebeth and Juandré Kruger is bold, but elsewhere South Africa have plenty of experience. They will look to intimidate and harass their opposition as always, but it might not be so effective early on.
If England are to pick up a win in South Africa this summer, it has to be on Saturday. They have arrived in the Republic fresh from a comfortable win over the Barbarians and a surprisingly successful Six Nations campaign in which they finished second – forging new partnerships in key areas and exposing promising youngsters to the international stage. In Chris Robshaw they have a leader who is playing some of his best rugby, doing enough to push himself closer to the world-class bracket. His wise words and power around the park will be immensely important to any English success in Durban.
Looking across the XV, Owen Farrell returns to the 10 shirt in what for many is seen as a crucial fixture in his development. Mouritz Botha and Geoff Parling have limited experience but more than their South African counterparts so England must dominate the lineout, with Dan Cole looking to tame the Beast. In the centres, Brad Barritt’s excellent defensive organisation will be tested to the limit, whilst accommodating both Mike Brown and Ben Foden highlights England’s expectation to field plenty of high kicks, something both players can do excellently.
What to Expect:
A lot of this match hinges on the scrum. The Beast may have torn apart Phil Vickery in 2009 when the Lions came to town but Graham Rowntree will make sure no mistake happens again. Also, Dan Cole is a truly brilliant scrummager who is ready-made for these sort of matches. The key will be on the other side and how debutant Joe Marler fares against Jannie du Plessis. Etzebeth and Kruger will be put under pressure from Botha and Parling, whilst in the back row neither side possesses a traditional fetcher, placing the emphasis on power from debutant Marcell Coetzee, Willem Alberts and Pierre Spies up against another new cap in Tom Johnson, alongside Robshaw and Ben Morgan.
The Boks have opted for Francois Hougaard’s X-Factor over Ruan Pienaar’s deadly boot, whilst Ben Youngs will look to snipe and cut around the fringes. Morné Steyn’s Garryowens will rain down all afternoon, but it is outside him in the battle for the gain line where the key to this match could lie. If the ball goes wide, both back threes are capable of securing crucial scores.
Head to Head: Marcell Coetzee & Tom Johnson
Young Coetzee might wear the 7 shirt but will play as a 6 such is the Springbok way, looking to impress in his hometown on debut. His selection raised a few eyebrows when first mooted last week but the 21-year old is a fantastic athlete with plenty of pace. Something about him has clearly caught Heyneke Meyer’s eye and this series will be a clear indication of whether Coetzee will go on to be an outstanding Super Rugby player, or a Springbok.
The man making his first start opposite Coetzee has had a slightly different rise to the international game. Tom Johnson’s fantastic form for Exeter over the last two seasons has been impossible to ignore and as a result of England missing plenty of bodies at blindside flanker (Croft, Wood, Lawes, Haskell), he gets his chance. Certainly not afraid of the rough stuff.
Ones to Watch: Eben Etzebeth & Joe Marler
When you lose a player of Andries Bekker’s quality to injury, you should rightly fear the worst. Yet instead the Stormers have unearthed a gem of a lock forward in 20-year old Etzebeth. At 6ft 8 and 19st, he truly is a behemoth of a lock whose physical play has won plenty of praise in this year’s Super Rugby season. Not one to be overawed by the occasion, England must subdue him to succeed.
Meanwhile the Mohicaned Marler finally makes his debut after plenty of squad time during the Six Nations. Perhaps it was coming so close to selection yet falling short during the England’s campaign that spurred Marler on in the second-half of the season, because his form for Harlequins has been outstanding, culminating in a Premiership winner’s medal at the end of May. Saturday however will be his greatest test.
Given England haven’t won in South Africa since Jonny Wilkinson’s 27 point haul back in 2000, history does not favour their chances. Saturday represents their best chance to pick up a win this summer given the Boks lack of preparation time and fresh faces in the lineout. South Africa will only get stronger as the tour goes on and have enough experience in the backs to win this. But England could come through. England by 3
by Ben Coles