DURBAN - There are just four veterans left in the England squad from the 2012 tour of South Africa and they have made a point of sharing invaluable insights of intimidating Ellis Park with their teammates.
One of them is flank Chris Robshaw, who on Tuesday described the venue as “the best rugby stadium I have played in outside Twickenham”. The other three who played in the series won 2-0 by the Springboks (the third Test was drawn in Port Elizabeth after Bok wins in Durban and Joburg) are scrumhalf Ben Youngs, flyhalf Owen Farrell and prop Joe Marler.
“It was very hostile but a brilliant experience due to the intensity, the atmosphere, the passion levels, the quality of rugby on show. It is a wonderful place to go and play, and as a squad we feel ready for that,” Robshaw said. “There is a reason no England team has won at Ellis Park and no England team has won a series in South Africa. The few of us that have toured here have spoken plenty about how difficult it is going to be, so the squad is under no illusions about the challenge in front of us.”
Robshaw, who has won 64 caps since 2009, said the trick on Saturday is to fight fire with fire from the first minute, having learned a lesson from the 2012 encounter at Ellis Park. “We were not as ready as we should have been that day. We allowed them to get momentum because we did not meet the challenge head on and we were playing catch-up the whole game,” he said. “This time around we have to match them from the first whistle.”
Robshaw said this tour was all about winning the series, with little focus on next year’s World Cup: “It is about winning, full stop. We know we had to address some things from the Six Nations that did not go to plan and we have hopefully fixed them up.”
“We always put series and tournaments into their own brackets, so for us coming here it is all about winning the series. That is what our mindset is, with no worry about the World Cup or the next Six Nations. We know this is going to be an exciting but challenging tour.”
Robshaw admitted that the altitude caught the England team off guard in 2012 and that they had been taking steps in training in England last week to help combat the thin Highveld air. “We have addressed the altitude factor but then a lot of their players don’t play at altitude, so we will be in the same boat,” he said.
“You have to get your second wind quickly... in the first 15 minutes you might be blowing a little and you need to recover from that quickly. Last time we came here we were 19 points down after 15 minutes before clawing our way back to respectability.”