Cape Town – “They’re implying that our forward pack is weak! Well, our forward pack’s not weak, and we’ll have our opportunity on Saturday to show that.”
That was the fighting talk from England coach Eddie Jones on Thursday after naming two fresh-faced front-rowers for the Twickenham showdown with the world-champion Springboks.
Experienced prop Joe Marler was only set to come out of Covid-19 quarantine later on Thursday, so he has to be satisfied with a place on the bench, with the unheralded Bevan Rodd and Jamie Blamire packing down alongside Kyle Sinckler against the much-vaunted Bok front row of Ox Nché, Bongi Mbonambi and Trevor Nyakane.
There is a possible debutant among the reserves in the shape of hooker Nic Dolly, who will hope to defuse the Bok ‘Bomb Squad’ of Steven Kitshoff, Malcolm Marx and Vincent Koch with the help of replacement props Marler and Will Stuart.
But after choosing Courtney Lawes as the captain in place of the injured Owen Farrell on Thursday, Jones insisted that his forwards can handle the heat from the South Africans.
“You’ve got to get stuck in, mate. There’s no getting away from the fight. But having said that, there are opportunities to hurt them in other ways, and we’ve got to be brave enough to take those opportunities and hurt them in other ways,” the Australian said from the England base at Pennyhill Park – which is about a 30-minute drive from Twickenham – in an online press conference.
“So, the physicality is an important part of Test rugby. If you look at the history of South Africa and England rugby, they’ve got a 65 percent winning record – and it’s probably based on their physicality. They said after the World Cup final, where they beat us fair and square, that they knew how to play us, they knew where our weaknesses were… They’re implying that our forward pack is weak!
“Well, our forward pack’s not weak, and we’ll have our opportunity on Saturday to show that. We’re looking forward to taking them on in the physicality, and we’re also looking forward to exploiting the weaknesses in their game – which they do have.”
Asked who had said that the England pack of forwards were “weak”, Jones replied: “It’s just the implication of what they’re saying, mate. They knew how to beat us… (Siya) Kolisi after the World Cup final said he knew how to beat us, and obviously their game is based on physicality. So, the implication is that they can go over our forward pack.
“But our English forward pack won’t be weak on Saturday. We will have 82 000 people supporting that forward pack, and we are looking forward to that contest upfront.
“What SA can expect from England: I can’t answer what they can expect, mate. I know what we are going to deliver – we will deliver a strong-spirited, energetic, aggressive display by our forward pack.”
Apart from Lawes’ rise to the captaincy, Joe Marchant has come in at right wing for Manu Tuilagi, who moves to inside centre for Farrell (ankle), while hooker Blamire replaces the injured Jamie George (knee).
Jones said that Marchant’s selection was down to the fact that “we know that South Africa are going to come through the air. They have a fairly stated game plan, and winning the air is an important part of their game.
“We feel like Joe Marchant is one of the best in England in the air. He brings that ability to contest in the air really well, he’s a strong defender and a strong runner with the ball. So, it suits the way we want to play this week.”
Having said that the Boks have weaknesses that England could exploit, the 61-year-old Jones was reluctant to reveal exactly where those shortcomings may be…
“Do you really think I’m going to tell you? That’s not a reasonable question, mate. But like every team, there is no team that are unbeatable; there’s no team that doesn’t have a flaw in whatever they do. And sometimes your strength becomes your weakness.”
15 Freddie Steward 14 Joe Marchant 13 Henry Slade 12 Manu Tuilagi 11 Jonny May 10 Marcus Smith 9 Ben Youngs 8 Tom Curry 7 Sam Underhill 6 Courtney Lawes (captain) 5 Jonny Hill 4 Maro Itoje 3 Kyle Sinckler 2 Jamie Blamire 1 Bevan Rodd.
Bench: 16 Nic Dolly 17 Joe Marler 18 Will Stuart 19 Charlie Ewels 20 Sam Simmonds 21 Alex Dombrandt 22 Raffi Quirke 23 Max Malins.