The upcoming Autumn Internationals are set to be a mouth-watering affair for the players, coaching staff and spectators alike.
With less than 12 months before the start of the Rugby World Cup in Japan – the games in November are key for finalising combinations, a last look at potential players while at the same time ensuring victory. Over and above all of this it is making sure the general game plan is understood and implemented effectively by the current core squad of players.
Both England and South Africa arguably have an outside chance of winning the World Cup and lifting the Webb Ellis Trophy at the International Stadium in Yokohama on 2nd November 2019.
England’s incredible winning start under Eddie Jones and the recent fall-off in results is well documented. The Autumn Internationals, where they play the big three from the Southern Hemisphere as well as Japan, will provide a stern test. Nothing less than three out of four wins will be acceptable for the England fans and critics; and the pressure on the Australian-born coach is certainly building.
An added challenge for the England coach is the current injury list including key players like the Vunipola brothers, Joe Launchbury, Anthony Watson and Chris Robshaw, to name a few. A huge frustration will be the loose forward injuries as the longstanding back-row combination issue would have been a nice problem to solve in the autumn.
The co-captains Dylan Hartley and Owen Farrell will be key to the results throughout the autumn. It will also be interesting to see where Jones uses the instrumental Farrell, whether in the No 10 jersey or inside centre – he will probably show his World Cup hand this November.
From a Springbok point of view, there is a definite upturn in results from an extremely disappointing 2017 under Allister Coetzee. Rassie Erasmus, the former Munster coach, has definitely got the Springboks heading in the right direction.
A recent victory against New Zealand in Wellington and a narrow two-point loss in Pretoria to the All Blacks, as well as a series victory in the summer against England, shows steady progress for the men in Green and Gold. The Springboks are far from being the finished article and consistency remains a problem, but they are capable of beating any side on their day as recent results show.
The return of Duane Vermeulen at the back of the scrum in the heavy Northern Hemisphere conditions will be essential. It now seems that Erasmus has set his stall on Handre Pollard playing at No 10 and the Bulls pivot has rewarded this selection consistency with some very good performances. The omission of Sale Sharks' Faf De Klerk leaves them looking extremely thin at scrumhalf with the three touring No 9’s having a meagre eight caps between them.
The game on Saturday is as important for these two sides as it has been for some time, here we look back at three vintage autumn encounters between these two great rugby nations.
England 37 – 21 South Africa (Twickenham, 12th November 2016
An extremely good performance by England meant that they notched up their first victory over the Springboks for a decade. A dominant display by Eddie Jones’ men (58% territory advantage) was backed up with a four-try-to-two victory. Scores for Jonny May and Courtney Lawes to two penalties and a drop-goal by Pat Lambie meant that the home side went in 20-9 at the break.
Further tries for the 10-12 axis of George Ford and Owen Farrell meant for a comfortable victory for the English side, with Willie Le Roux scoring a consolation try in the closing minutes to give some respectability to the scoreline. Ford’s five-pointer was set up by an audacious dummy by Ben Youngs to send him over the whitewash.
There were strong performances by Ben Youngs and man-of-the-match Joe Launchbury to give Eddie Jones his tenth consecutive victory for England after a Grand Slam and an unbeaten tour against the Wallabies earlier in the year. An emphatic performance by the home side resulting in a comfortable win.
England 11 – 21 South Africa (Twickenham, 27th November 2010
South Africa was coming off a shock defeat to Scotland the week before and there is nothing more dangerous than a wounded Springbok squad. A determined workmanlike performance by the Southern Hemisphere side was centred on a brutal and physical approach and South Africa dominated the collisions.
In what proved to be a comfortable victory for the then World Champions after going in at half-time 6-6, meant that the Springboks had seven consecutive victories against England. Second half tries by Lwazi Mvovo and Willem Alberts as well as an 11-point haul by Morne Steyn meant that the twenty-one points was enough, with two Springbok penalties hitting the posts. A late intercept try by fullback Ben Foden brought some respectability to the result for Martin Johnson’s side.
With South Africa missing captain John Smit and talisman Schalk Burger the pack had to stand up and be counted. The physical Bismarck Du Plessis had an extremely strong game for the visitors and he was well supported by the second row combination of Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha.
Courtney Lawes had a big game for the home side, however, this wasn’t enough in a tough afternoon for Lewis Moody’s men.
England 23 – 21 South Africa (Twickenham, 18 November 2006)
A battle in the true sense of the word between two sides putting everything on the line in what was a scrappy affair. It certainly wasn’t a classic but the scoreline and drama in this desperate Test match was a game for the true rugby traditionalist.
A Phil Vickery try in the seventy-third minute proved the difference between the two teams and meant a seventh consecutive win for England against the Springboks after trailing for large parts of the game.
South Africa went into the shed leading 13-6 at half-time, a young Frans Steyn hitting a booming drop-goal from 45 metres out followed by a free-flowing try to get Butch James over in the corner.
A try by Akona Ndungane meant the Springboks were leading 18-6 and were closing in on victory, however, a yellow card for Jean De Villiers proved decisive in this encounter. A spirited display by Andy Robinson’s men in the closing twenty minutes meant a turn around in England’s fortunes.
Andy Goode lost the ball backwards in attempting to score and Mark Cueto was on hand to pounce and get on the scoreboard, Goode duly converted the score. Further pressure from a spirited England team resulted in the “Raging Bull”, Vickery, sealing a hard-fought victory much to the delight of the Twickenham faithful.
The win meant England averted a record eight straight defeats and some much-needed relief for Andy Robinson, in turn putting more pressure on Springbok coach Jake White for the second Test a week later.
Saturday 3rd November 2018
This Saturday has all the ingredients required for an epic Test match between two very good rugby sides on their day and hopefully lives up to previous encounters. Roll on Twickenham.