London – England coach Stuart Lancaster has told his side they must win the “breakdown battle” if they are to overcome South Africa at Twickenham on Saturday.
The hosts were well-beaten on that front during last weekend's 20-14 loss to Australia, with Wallaby openside flanker Michael Hooper dominating the breakdown and Australia on top in the scrum.
England have yet to beat one of the major southern hemisphere powers under Lancaster, losing the first two and drawing the third of three Tests in South Africa in June before the defeat by the Wallabies.
Victory over the Springboks would be a huge boost to England's morale ahead of the December 1 visit of world champions New Zealand to Twickenham.
England, the 2015 World Cup hosts, are currently fifth in the International Rugby Board rankings and a failure to win on Saturday could scupper their hopes of a top four seeding at next month's draw for the global showpiece.
For all the doubts that remain about England's lack of creativity behind the scrum, they must impose themselves up front against the often ferociously physical Springboks if they are to give their backs the minimum requirement for attacking play of quick ball.
To that end, Lancaster has decided to give Wasps lock Joe Launchbury a first Test start in what he hopes will be a beefed-up pack also featuring the recalled Ben Morgan, Tom Wood and Alex Corbisiero.
Lancaster is looking to Launchbury to replicate the role of South Africa's 21-year-old lock Eben Etzebeth, singled out as a key man by Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer this week.
“I remember watching Etzebeth at the Under-20 World Cup. He has been destined to be a Springbok for a long time. Joe's journey has been different but he is ready for this challenge,” Lancaster said.
“You see what he's delivered off the bench against Fiji and Australia, his ability to deal with the international rugby, there's no reason why he shouldn't be an England player for a long time.
“Hopefully we should be sat here in seven or eight years time and I'll be saying 'Joe Launchbury's still the best'.
“But we don't need just one enforcer against the Springboks on Saturday, we need eight.
“We need all our pack to make sure that we are on top of their game to win the breakdown battle, the physical battle, the set piece battle which will be a necessity to win the game.”
And in that respect Lancaster is also looking to a big performance from ball-carrying No 8 Morgan, in for the dropped Thomas Waldrom, after doubts over his defence saw him lose his place on tour in South Africa.
“If you don't match South Africa physically you aren't going to win. You have to win the gainline battle,” Lancaster said.
“Ben is a bigger, more physical, more robust number eight in terms of ball carrying (than Waldrom).
“We asked Ben to work on areas defensively to make sure he had an impact in defence. He has worked hard on that and he is chomping at the bit.”
South Africa though believe they have a back-row diamond in Francois Louw, the flanker who plays his club rugby for English Premiership side Bath.
Louw was Man of the Match in last week's 21-10 win over Scotland, having previously impressed during the England series.
“Louw has been awesome,” said Meyer, who knows English rugby well from his time in charge of Leicester.
“He is the type of openside I like – superb on the ground, he is also a great ball carrier and he also has stopping power in defence.
“He is the whole package and he has been awesome for us.” – Sapa-AFP