All you need to know about the Test between South Africa and England in Johannesburg
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Two giants of the global game come together with plenty at stake. In only the second three-match series between the sides – South Africa won 2-0, with one draw, in 2012 – the Springboks are starting afresh under new coach Rassie Erasmus following the sacking of Allister Coetzee in February.
Erasmus’s opening match last weekend brought defeat by Wales in a dismal match in Washington, but he has a completely revamped side this time, with only tighthead Wilco Louw possibly starting again should Trevor Nyakane fail a fitness test.
Nevertheless, big guns such as Eben Etzebeth, Malcolm Marx and Warren Whiteley are missing and Eddie Jones’s more experienced XV arguably start as slight favourites, despite the fact England have only beaten the Boks three times on South African soil.
England will certainly be eager to end a four-match losing run, comprising Six Nations defeats by Scotland, France and Ireland, and a high-scoring reverse to the Barbarians in an uncapped match at the end of May.
Chris Robshaw missed six tackles in that Baa-Baas match and scrutiny will fall on the senior players just as much as the rookies as Jones searches for the combinations that he hopes will take England to glory at next year’s World Cup.
What’s the big team news?
Lots to digest. The switching of Mike Brown and Elliot Daly, with Daly getting a run at full-back and Brown restored to the wing shirt that he last wore with regularity in 2013, has raised eyebrows. Brown is more of a weaving runner than a traditional flyer, but whatever the number on his back he will be a reassuring back-three presence under the high ball.
Tom Curry, a debutant in Argentina last summer, finally gets another go at seven after an injury-plagued season while Kiwi-born Brad Shields is set to win a first cap off the bench after jetting in from Super Rugby.
Curry is the only non-London club forward to start, with Saracens’ hefty contingent including two-cap lock Nick Isiekwe – Joe Launchbury has a calf injury – and No 8 Billy Vunipola for his first cap since Dublin last year. Vunipola’s book Wrecking Ball last night won the Rugby Book of the Year prize at the Sports Book Awards in London.
Another Saracen, scrum-half Ben Spencer, can expect to win a first cap as a replacement in a side led by Owen Farrell because regular captain Dylan Hartley is resting after concussion.
South Africa give debuts to wings S’busiso Nkosi (Sharks) and Aphiwe Dyantyi (Lions), as well as Bulls lock RG Snyman.
Willie le Roux and Faf de Klerk are included after outstanding Premiership seasons with Wasps and Sale respectively, and there’s a new captain in Siya Kolisi. Prop Tendai Mtawarira will win his 99th cap almost ten years to the day since his Test debut v Wales in Pretoria.
What have the coaches said?
South Africa coach Rassie Erasmus: “It will be one proper series, a hell of a series. We lost the game with Wales (last weekend), which makes it two defeats in a row and Eddie (Jones) and England have lost four in a row. We are all under pressure and, when you lose for your country, the heat comes on you.
“It will be a step up we’re ready for. We have to win and so do they. When you get matches like that it means the first game at Ellis Park is going to be a massive one.
“Eddie is a wonderful coach. He always has a lot of plans, and the things he does in the build-up to a Test match in terms of what he says are always very smart. I don’t think it will be any different this time and it’s going to be a wonderful occasion.”
England coach Eddie Jones: “We’ve had a really good week in preparation and are pleased with the way the squad has come together.
“Owen Farrell has settled in well to his new role, with the senior players supporting him, and there is a good feeling within the camp. We want to do something special on this tour and the players are incredibly excited about this challenge and opportunity we have.
“Ellis Park is the spiritual homeland of South African rugby and the Springboks play to another level on that ground, so we know we have to raise our game physically early on and be enormously accurate in the way we play.”
Any interesting statistics?
* This will be England’s fourth meeting with the Springboks at Ellis Park (currently called Emirates Airline Park). They won there 18-9 in 1972 but lost 35-9 in 1984 and 36-27 in 2012.
* Ben Youngs scored two tries in that defeat six years ago. He and Chris Robshaw are the only starters this weekend who also started in 2012, but Owen Farrell and Joe Marler were also involved on that occasion.
* England’s back division has three times as much Test experience, with the average caps per man being 44 compared to South Africa’s 15. The caps tallies in the pack and on the bench are almost identical.
* This is England’s eighth tour to South Africa. Excluding the one-off Test in 1972, they have yet to win a series there, although they drew 1-1 in 1994 and 2000.
* The average South Africa-England score in South Africa is 28-16 while across all 38 meetings it’s 21-17.
* The Springboks’ 58-10 win at Bloemfontein in 2007 is England’s second-biggest Test defeat ever, eclipsed only by the 76-0 rout by Australia on the 1998 Tour to Hell. Mike Brown, on the wing this weekend, made his Test debut in that Bloemfontein match.
What time does it kick off and is it on TV?
The match at Ellis Park kicks off at 4.05pm 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 New Zealander Ben O’Keeffe, who took charge of England’s 30-6 win over Australia last autumn that had Michael Cheika complaining about TMO decisions. The assistant referees are France’s Romain Poite and New Zealand’s Glen Jackson, with Ireland’s Simon McDowell fulfilling TMO duties.
What are the line-ups?
SOUTH AFRICA Willie le Roux; S’busiso Nkosi, Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Aphiwe Dyantyi; Handré Pollard, Faf de Klerk; Tendai Mtawarira, Bongi Mbonambi, Trevor Nyakane/Wilco Louw, RG Snyman, Franco Mostert, Siya Kolisi (capt), Jean-Luc du Preez, Duane Vermeulen.
Replacements 16 Akker van der Merwe, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Wilco Louw/Thomas du Toit, 19 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 20 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 21 Ivan van Zyl, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Warrick Gelant.
ENGLAND Elliot Daly; Jonny May, Henry Slade, Owen Farrell (capt), Mike Brown; George Ford, Ben Youngs; Mako Vunipola, Jamie George, Kyle Sinckler, Maro Itoje, Nick Isiekwe, Chris Robshaw, Tom Curry, Billy Vunipola.
Replacements 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Joe Marler, 18 Harry Williams, 19 Brad Shields, 20 Nathan Hughes, 21 Ben Spencer, 22 Piers Francis, 23 Denny Solomona.
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