England coach Eddie Jones has had a lot to say about today’s test against the Springboks at Twickenham and his latest comment, comparing it to “chess with steroids”, left Bok captain Adriaan Strauss amused and bemused. If the test matches the flamboyance of Jones’s comments this week, it will be one of the greatest of all time.
The reality though is that despite the colourful rhetoric flowing from Pennyhill Park, with rain and two massive packs straining to get at each other, the contest is likely to be a dour war of attrition.
And it is vital that the Boks keep it simple because England want them to become unstructured.
After a dismal season, with only four wins in nine tests, the Boks are desperate to turn their fortunes around, although injuries have made selections tough for coach Allister Coetzee.
Cheetahs centre Francois Venter will earn his first test cap while lock Pieter-Steph du Toit will pack down as blindside flank, with Willem Alberts starting in the unfamiliar openside role.
But this is not a match where the Boks are looking for one player to dominate the breakdown. They are rather aiming to win collisions and by extension the gainline battle.
Jones, for all his bluster, has prepared his team for the assault he knows will come, although he has done his best to make the Boks feel self-conscious about opting for a route-one approach.
He wants SA to go against their current capabilities and attempt to open the game up. As insurance though, the England pack Jones selected is heavier than the Boks’.
“We don’t want to go toe-to-toe with them, because that’s what they want,” Jones said. “Why would we do that? Have South Africa ever changed? They never change. They’re a very structured side.
“They play the game like a physical game of chess, like chess with steroids. They know exactly where they want to go and they do it with force.
“So we’ve got to be good at not allowing them to win the ball in the right places; then, secondly, not allowing them to get momentum.
“It’s almost the opposite game you play against New Zealand [where] you want to keep your game as structured as possible. Against South Africa you want to keep the game unstructured.”
Strauss was not fully buying into the rhetoric. “That’s a very interesting statement,” Strauss said with a laugh. “We’re moving towards a different style that we want to play but we’re not there yet.
“But we won’t move away from a physical style of rugby, it’s South Africans’ DNA and it’s our brand, but we also have to adapt and grow as a team.”
With Du Toit and Alberts starting at flank, the Boks do not have a specialist openside, but they have bolstered their lineout and scrum with the added beef those two players bring.
The set-piece battle will be huge, but defence in broken play has been a weak area for the Boks this year. If they hope to get the test portion of their tour off to a positive start they will need to plug holes.
This year the Boks have leaked an unacceptable 27 tries in nine tests.
In 12 unbeaten tests against England since 2006, the Boks have only conceded 12 tries – or one per game – and that has to be the target to have any chance of victory. They will need that kind of defensive steel again to continue their impressive run against the current Grand Slam champions.
Strauss admitted defence had received a lot of attention over the past three weeks since the squad came together. With a third defensive coach this season in JP Ferreira, it has not been easy.
“We have a new defence coach and we have sorted out a few things in terms of structure over the past few weeks . . . We have made progress but we will only see the results [today],” Strauss said.
England – 15 Mike Brown 14 Marland Yarde, 13 Elliot Daly, 12 Owen Farrell, 11 Jonny May, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Tom Wood, 6 Chris Robshaw, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley, 1 Mako Vunipola. Reserves: 16 Jamie George, 17 Joe Marler, 18 Kyle Sinckler, 19 Dave Attwood, 20 Nathan Hughes, 21 Danny Care, 22 Ben Te’o, 23 Jonathan Joseph.
Springboks – 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Francois Venter, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Pat Lambie, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Willem Alberts, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Adriaan Strauss (capt), 1 Tendai Mtawarira. 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Franco Mostert, 20 Nizaam Carr, 21 Faf de Klerk, 22 Johan Goosen, 23 Lionel Mapoe.