South Africa vs England: All eyes will be on referee Andrew Brace
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Cape Town – This match was never going to lack any spice, but the recent developments will only make it hotter.
With World Rugby having opted to give their verdict on SA director of rugby Rassie Erasmus’ video-saga three days before the meeting between the Springboks and England, the Boks should be all kinds of fired-up for the clash…and what an in-your-face would it be to the governing body (and the ‘traumatised’ Nic Berry) if this little move has the opposite effect of what one can only assume World Rugby is hoping for?
Also, given what happened at the 2019 World Cup final in Yokohama, it’s no wonder Eddie Jones is so eager to go into the Six Nations with a “South African scalp”.
England have been waiting to face the world champions for two years and the British & Irish Lions Series would have only compounded that need for retribution. After all, it must be hellishly frustrating knowing that they came second to the South Africans on rugby’s two biggest stages on consecutive occasions despite everything – and everyone – the South Africans have had to deal with.
So, with that said, here are three match-ups that will have a big say at Twickenham.
Eben Etzebeth vs Maro Itoje
There have been a lot of good jokes this season, but Etzebeth – a guy who’s been in permanently-activated beast mode in 2021 – not making World Rugby’s Player of the Year nominees’ list is one of the top thigh-slappers.
His counterpart Itoje, however, made the cut. Now, nobody can say the English lock isn’t a fine athlete, but it becomes pretty hard to give credit when it seems like the World Rugby panel’s checklist changed as quickly as New Zealand’s No 1 ranking.
Anyway, everything that’s gone down should only make Etzebeth more determined to be at his destructive best this weekend. Luckily for Itoje, there won’t be any runners-up medals he can ‘decline’ to wear after this game.
Siya Kolisi (AKA another bizarre omission from the nominees’ list) vs Courtney Lawes
What a year this man has had! He’s gone from leading the Boks to a Lions Series win, a stunning victory over the All Blacks, and now a solid run in Europe. And man, how good has his personal form been? He has been one of the most consistent performers for the Boks, and his impact has been simply unmissable.
Certain officials can be dismissive to him on the field all they want, but you can’t brush off what a monster of a presence he’s been.
Right, now to the English side.
Lawes will captain the side in the big one on Saturday, and while he might be a handful when it comes to his big-tackling game and his ball-carrying, the added pressure of leading the side for only his second time – combined with how the Bok pack can be all over him – leaves me thinking that he will be properly outshined this weekend.
South Africa vs Andrew Brace (match referee)
Yes, yes, this should never be considered a match-up, but thanks to World Rugby and the way their officials have managed to confuse and baffle with their decisions and how they’ve been more influential in games than top-ranked players, the man in the middle deserves an honorary inclusion.
They’ve pulled a nice one by going for a fairly little-known ref for this blockbuster but, chances are, we’ll still be left with plenty to talk about during and after the game (especially considering how he has handled games England have been involved in). Or, who knows, now that the damage has been done, they might encourage this official to lay off the we’re-going-to-make-an-example-of-you-Saffas attitude.
You just never know.