All you need to know about the Test between England and South Africa at Twickenham
Autumn Internationals: England v South Africa Preview
Sixteen years ago, England welcomed New Zealand, Australia and South Africa to Twickenham in November and beat all three to lay down a marker for the following year’s successful World Cup. England have the opportunity to emulate Clive Woodward’s side this month as those three superpowers again visit London.
The context, however, is starkly different. A dead-rubber win for England at the end of June’s series against the Springboks has yet to convince anyone that a corner has been turned.
Scotland, France, Ireland and South Africa (twice) have all beaten England this year and head coach Eddie Jones will be expected to achieve a minimum of three wins from their four-match Quilter International programme, with victory over Japan seen as a given.
Injuries have played havoc with selection but that is no bad thing. England might have to play a World Cup final without the Vunipola brothers, so let’s not bemoan the missing players but instead embrace the opportunities it gives others.
Can Alec Hepburn prove himself as a Test loosehead? Will Zach Mercer, a star of U20 World Cups, push on? And with Mike Brown surprisingly dropped, is Elliot Daly about to show that he belongs at full-back?
South Africa finished second in the Rugby Championship and have real momentum. Their last three outings have seen a brave if fortunate win over New Zealand in Wellington, a solid home defeat of the Wallabies, and an agonizing defeat by the All Blacks in Pretoria after a swashbuckling victory seemed inevitable.
However, with this match falling outside the international window they are deprived of Europe-based stars such as Willie le Roux, Faf de Klerk and Francois Louw.
The pressure is off the Boks, relatively speaking, which will only make England more wary.
What’s the big team news?
George Ford has started 28 of Eddie Jones’s 31 England Tests, so his demotion to the bench – or role of ‘finisher’, as Jones likes to call it – is a significant move.
With co-captain Owen Farrell moving to ten, Worcester’s Ben Te’o gets the 12 shirt after playing fewer than 30 minutes this season following summer surgery on a torn quadriceps. Another powerful midfield carrier, Manu Tuilagi, was named on the bench but withdrew on Friday because of a muscle strain.
With Billy Vunipola, Nathan Hughes and Sam Simmonds all unavailable, Newcastle’s Mark Wilson wears No 8 in a back row that has only ten caps between them. Ben Moon and Zach Mercer are set to earn first caps as replacements.
Besides Farrell’s sideways shift and the return of Te’o, the main point of interest in the back-line is Jack Nowell’s selection ahead of Chris Ashton at right-wing. Ashton has only just returned from suspension and, as with so many positions, it’s difficult to assess where he sits in the pecking order. The Sale wing replaces Tuilagi on the bench and so is odds-on to earn his first cap since the 2014 tour to New Zealand.
Shorn of their Europe-based players, the Springboks make seven changes to the starting XV that faced New Zealand three weeks ago. Duane Vermeulen and Warren Whiteley (fit after a groin injury) return in a formidable-looking back row, with Pieter-Steph du Toit – outstanding at blindside this year – picked at lock.
Du Toit fills the vacant position of Franco Mostert and resumes his provincial second-row partnership with Eben Etzebeth, the most experienced Bok on show with 73 Test caps.
Lock Lood de Jager is included among the replacements and is set to make his first Springbok appearance of 2018 after a lengthy chest injury.
With le Roux absent, the hugely exciting Damian Willemse makes his first start after three caps off the bench. Sbu Nkosi returns to the right wing in place of Cheslin Kolbe.
Ivan van Zyl, who made his only Test start against Wales in June in Washington, gets the nod at scrum-half.
What have the coaches said?
England coach Eddie Jones said: “We’ve become very well-organised in our set-piece and have done a lot of good work in Portugal over the last week. We’ve put in a new defence system and our attack looks more organised than it was on the South Africa tour.
“Against South Africa you’ve got the physical battle up front and then you have to be tactically smart in how you attack against them. We need to find ways to gain momentum, then convert that to points.
“We are really excited to be back at Twickenham. It’s been a long time and we can’t wait to play in front of 82,000 fans.”
Rassie Erasmus, the SA Director of Rugby, said: “England will be desperate to win this one at Twickenham. This match will be a huge tactical affair, with much of the outcome depending on how you handle the set phases and kicking game.”
Any interesting statistics?
- England lost five on the trot to South Africa at Twickenham before ending the rot with a 37-21 win in 2016. Owen Farrell, one of England’s four try-scorers that day, bagged 19 points.
- Dylan Hartley is the only England forward who began that match who’s also starting this weekend. Ben Te’o and Kyle Sinckler both made their Test debuts that afternoon.
- Jonny May is the only player to score a try in four consecutive matches against the Springboks. The Leicester wing has scored in his last five Tests – France and Ireland in the Six Nations, and each of the three June Tests in South Africa.
- Malcolm Marx and Damian Willemse are the only two Springboks yet to play in a Test against England.
- South Africa have won 11 of their 20 Tests against England at Twickenham.
- Handré Pollard needs seven points to reach 300 career points for South Africa.
What time does it kick off and is it on TV?
The match at Twickenham kicks off at 3pm UK time on Saturday and is live on Sky Sports. There will also be live commentary on BBC Radio 5 live and online.
The referee is Australia’s Angus Gardner, who took charge of the England-Ireland Six Nations match in March. His own playing career ended as a teenager when he was diagnosed with Scheuremann’s Disease, a hereditary disc condition.
Gardner’s assistant referees for this match are Jerome Garces (France) and Ben Whitehouse (Wales), with Ireland’s Olly Hodges fulfilling TMO duties.
What are the line-ups?
ENGLAND Elliot Daly; Jack Nowell, Henry Slade, Ben Te’o, Jonny May; Owen Farrell (co-capt), Ben Youngs; Alec Hepburn, Dylan Hartley (co-capt), Kyle Sinckler, Maro Itoje, George Kruis, Brad Shields, Tom Curry, Mark Wilson.
Replacements 16 Jamie George, 17 Ben Moon, 18 Harry Williams, 19 Charlie Ewels, 20 Zach Mercer, 21 Danny Care, 22 George Ford, 23 Manu Tuilagi.
SOUTH AFRICA Damian Willemse; Sbu Nkosi, Jesse Kriel, Damian de Allende, Aphiwe Dyantyi; Handré Pollard, Ivan van Zyl; Steven Kitshoff, Malcolm Marx, Frans Malherbe, Eben Etzebeth, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Siya Kolisi (capt), Duane Vermeulen, Warren Whiteley.
Replacements 16 Bongi Mbonambi 17 Thomas du Toit 18 Wilco Louw 19 RG Snyman 20 Lood de Jager 21 Embrose Papier 22 Elton Jantjies 23 André Esterhuizen.