All you need to know about the Test between South Africa and England in Bloemfontein
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It’s expecting too much to think that episode two of the Anglo-Boks series will deliver the drama of Ellis Park. That ten-try bonanza, won 42-39 by the hosts, was remarkable from the moment Elliot Daly landed a 61-metre penalty in the second minute.
Even so, the Free State Stadium (aka Toyota) in Bloemfontein should be witness to another high-scoring match at altitude in which England will be desperate to end a five-match losing run – if you include the Barbarians game that Eddie Jones counts as a warm-up.
England’s disintegration from 24-3 up made a mockery of the idea that they’re well placed to win next year’s World Cup. They were helpless against the pace of Premiership stars Faf de Klerk and Willie le Roux, and again conceded far too many momentum-shifting penalties – a dirty dozen. If the ones against Jamie George for not rolling away cleanly enough were harsh, others were inexcusable. Chris Robshaw and Maro Itoje were the biggest culprits.
The switch of positions between Daly and Mike Brown was not successful, with Brown getting caught too narrow in defence and Daly making kicking errors. But it’s an experiment that continues this weekend and at least England are forewarned, because four of the five tries they conceded last week came after the Springboks cut back to the short side.
So delighted were the Boks by the impact of their overseas stars that they called the newly retired Schalk Brits into camp, where he’s been able to share insights about former Saracens team-mates.
Their extraordinary win – only Wales among Tier One nations had ever overcome such a huge deficit – has already made this a memorable series. Now England, who have slipped to fourth in the world rankings, must respond.
What’s the big team news?
There are two changes to England’s starting XV in Jo’burg, both in the pack. Joe Launchbury is fit again after a calf injury and replaces Nick Isiekwe, while Brad Shields, 27, gets a first start following his 45 minutes off the bench last week.
The selection of the New Zealand-born Shields, who has never played in England, has inevitably prompted protests. But his parents, Nigel and Danielle, are both English-born and they have defended his switch of allegiance in an illuminating interview in the Daily Mail.
While Isiekwe has most of his career ahead of him, Robshaw’s demotion indicates a potential changing of the guard. At 32, his place at next year’s World Cup is starting to look uncertain.
The Quins man is not even on the bench as Mark Wilson, who won his two previous caps in Argentina a year ago, joins the match-day 23. Danny Cipriani, who was last capped in a RWC 2015 warm-up, is also on the bench and will add, in Eddie Jones’s words, “something a little bit different” later in the game.
The day will initially be about Tendai Mtawarira, who will become the sixth Springbok to play a century of Tests. The others are Victor Matfield (127), Bryan Habana (124), John Smit (111), Jean de Villiers (109) and Percy Montgomery (102).
The 32-year-old Mtawarira, whose ‘Beast’ nickname is one of the best known in the game, joins an elite group of seven props who have made 100 or more Test appearances.
He lines up in a side showing two changes from Ellis Park. The fit-again Frans Malherbe, one of South Africa’s best players at the last World Cup, replaces Stormers team-mate Wilco Louw at tighthead, while Pieter-Steph du Toit displaces Jean-Luc du Preez at seven. The side looks stronger for the changes.
What have the coaches said?
South Africa coach Rassie Erasmus: “Like a typical front-rower, ‘Beast’ is not someone who likes the spotlight. However, his contribution to Springbok rugby during the past decade has been enormous. To reach 100 Test caps is a special achievement.
“England are a powerful side and I know Eddie Jones will have his team super-prepared. They will want to bounce back to level the series, so it’s going to be another huge Test of our resolve and character.”
England coach Eddie Jones: “Based on South Africa’s likely selection of an extra lineout jumper, we’ve decided to start with Brad Shields, which improves our lineout. It’s tough on Chris Robshaw as he has been an outstanding player for us but I know he will bounce back.
“Danny Cipriani has been training well and doing everything that has been asked of him.”
“We’ve come here to win the series. We’ve had a very good preparation this week and the intensity and executions in those sessions are going to put us in a good position for Saturday.
“The way the team has come together has been superb. Owen Farrell, with a number of the senior players, has really moulded the squad together. They are working hard to improve their game to make sure we win.
“When you have a win like South Africa did on Saturday, you come into the game with a bit of confidence, so we have to dent the Springboks’ confidence early. Bloemfontein is a very fast ground at altitude. It has an average of 60 points per Test match so we’re anticipating an ebb-and-flow type game like we had in Johannesburg.”
Any interesting statistics?
* Tendai Mtawarira becomes the first Springbok prop to win 100 caps, bearing in mind John Smit played mostly at hooker. He’s only the second southern hemisphere prop to achieve the feat, after All Black Tony Woodcock.
* This will be the third meeting of the sides in Bloemfontein. In 2000, England won 27-22, a landmark victory on their way to winning the World Cup. Jonny Wilkinson climbed off his sickbed to land eight penalties and a drop-goal. His 27 points is a joint record for a player against the Boks, a figure matched by Rob Andrew and Gerald Merceron.
* In 2007 it was the opposite story, an injury and illness-ravaged England side falling to their heaviest defeat by South Africa, 58-10. Mike Brown was one of five England debutants in that match, alongside Matt Cairns, Darren Compton, Dean Schofield and Roy Winters.
What time does it kick off and is it on TV?
The match at Toyota Stadium 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 Frenchman Romain Poite, taking charge of his 58th Test. His assistant referees are Glen Jackson and Ben O’Keeffe, both of New Zealand. Ireland’s Simon McDowell will again fulfil 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, Frans Malherbe, RG Snyman, Franco Mostert, Siya Kolisi (capt), Pieter-Steph du Toit, Duane Vermeulen.
Replacements: 16 Akker van der Merwe, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Thomas du Toit, 19 Jean-Luc du Preez, 20 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 21 Ivan van Zyl, 22 Jesse Kriel, 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, Joe Launchbury, Maro Itoje, Brad Shields, Tom Curry, Billy Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Joe Marler, 18 Harry Williams, 19 Mark Wilson, 20 Nathan Hughes, 21 Ben Spencer, 22 Danny Cipriani, 23 Denny Solomona.
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