at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
Remember the six lean years after 2000 when the Springboks just couldn’t get the better of England? They lost to them seven times in a row until the end of November in 2006, when they finally won 25-14 – and they haven’t looked back.
And should the Boks win at Coca-Cola Park on Saturday – in the second of the three Tests – they’d make it nine consecutive wins, already a record against the old enemy.
It has been a dominant showing by SA over the past six seasons, and not even the mass retirement of several key Boks in that time has weakened SA’s hold on England. With just five days to prepare last week, Heyneke Meyer’s team still had too much power and class for the tourists in Durban and, if he’s to be taken seriously, the Boks weren’t even close to being at their best last Saturday. And that can mean only one thing: England will be up against it on Saturday.
“I’ll be honest, this team is not five percent where I want them to be,” said Meyer.
Exactly what he means by that only the Bok boss knows, but it certainly sounds as if Meyer and the Boks feel they let themselves down last weekend. And they’re determined to put in a much more convincing performance in the second Test – one that, should they win it, would sew up the series before the teams head down to Port Elizabeth.
Sure, the Boks made a few mistakes during the 80 minutes in Durban. The players weren’t completely on top of their game, and England shaded the breakdowns in the opening half. However, the Boks were overall the better outfit.
England may also have scored a late try, but they never looked like a team that was going to cause the Boks endless trouble.
And so it’s on to tomorrow’s Test. Both teams should be in a better and stronger position, having got 80 minutes behind them and having had a good look at each other. But, even so, England will have to play some outstanding rugby to beat the Boks.
Toby Flood’s inclusion at flyhalf will give the visitors more attacking flair at the back. But then Pat Lambie’s return to fullback will also give the Boks something different.
It’s going to be a brutal battle up front – “It’s war, only with a few rules,” according to Bismarck du Plessis – but there’s little doubt the hosts are stronger than the tourists, while an expected improved showing by Francois Hougaard at scrumhalf will make the Boks an even greater threat on attack.
Both squads have promised a superior performance, which we’re likely to get, but if England manage to square the series it would be a real turn-up for the books.
It’s not likely to happen.
South Africa starting XV: Pat Lambie, JP Pietersen, Jean de Villiers (capt), Frans Steyn, Bryan Habana, Morne Steyn, Francois Hougaard, Pierre Spies, Willem Alberts, Marcell Coetzee, Juandre Kruger, Eben Etzebeth, Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck du Plessis, Beast Mtawarira. Replacements: Adriaan Strauss, Werner Kruger, Flip van der Merwe, Keegan Daniel, Ruan Pienaar, Wynand Olivier, Bjorn Basson
England starting XV: Ben Foden, Chris Ashton, Jonathan Joseph, Manu-samoa Tuilagi, David Strettle, Toby Flood, Ben Youngs, Ben Morgan, Chris Robshaw (capt), Tom Johnson, Geoff Parling, Mouritz Botha, Dan Cole, Dylan Hartley, Joe Marler. Replacements: Lee Mears, Alex Corbisiero, Tom Palmer, Phil Dowson, Lee Dickson, Owen Farrell, Alex Goode.
Venue: Coca-Cola Park, Johannesburg
Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Steve Walsh (Aus), Simon McDowell (Ire)
TMO: Iain Ramage (Sco)