Boks should beat England

2008-11-21 00:00

THE Springboks would be wrong to go into today’s Test against England thinking the loss to the hosts of Andrew Sheridan will significantly help their own cause at Twickenham.

That is the view of Springbok assistant and forward coach Gary Gold, who has spent several years coaching in England with London Irish.

Gold has a good working knowledge of the British players, and a high regard for Sheridan’s replacement, Tim Payne. Indeed, Gold appears to think Payne’s selection might suit England more than Sheridan does.

“We haven’t paid too much attention to the change enforced by Sheridan’s injury as Tim Payne is a seasoned campaigner and may even be more solid in the scrums than Andrew,” said Gold.

“Payne has been around for a while, he has established himself as a very good loosehead, and although we all know about Andrew’s strengths, Tim is more of a specialist loosehead.”

The scrums are going to be an important focus, for they are one of few areas where England can trouble the Boks, and so much is going to hinge on the hosts causing problems in the front-row. However, Gold believes the Boks will be up for the challenge and is clearly delighted Jannie du Plessis has joined the starting team.

“It is a massive factor for us that Jannie, although he wasn’t part of the initial tour group, has played in a Currie Cup winning front-row together with John Smit and Beast Mtawirara, and he has fitted in quite seamlessly this week. He is a good, solid scrummager and a very professional player who is building up a lot of experience.”

What could be more problematic, and a potential vulnerability, is the link provided between forwards and backs by the loose-forward unit and halfbacks. Danie Rossouw’s selection to replace Juan Smith on the flank has added one more upright ball carrier to the mix, for Smith does play to the ball more.

England do have some excellent fetchers in their back-row, so this is going to be a crucial area and Gold admits he is nervous about the breakdowns, probably as much for the lottery provided by unpredictable refereeing interpretations as for any weakness in his own team.

Obviously the accuracy of the Boks at the breakdowns will have a massive impact on the performance of the half-backs. The loss of Fourie du Preez was a massive blow for the calming influence he had on flyhalf Ruan Pienaar, and Ricky Januarie is a different kind of player.

Yet Januarie played out of his skin on his last visit to Twickenham for a Test against England, producing perhaps his finest game in the Bok jersey. If he can sharpen up his service and give Pienaar a chance to settle, it could go a long way to securing the comprehensive win South Africa need to make this tour a success.

The word from the camp is that the Boks will look to employ the same direct strategy that worked so well against Australia in Johannesburg in August. They have worked hard at getting players behind the ball carrier, and with England no great shakes at the moment, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that the Boks will win comfortably.

Indeed, while so much of the focus for these tours tends to centre on the England match, the Boks should have already played their toughest game, against Wales who are the Six Nations champions.

The Boks were comfortable when direct against Wales in the first half in Cardiff, so there is no reason why they should not be, at Twickenham.

On previous tours the Boks faced a psychological barrier because they had not won at the venue since 1997, but the 2006 game changed all that, with a second-string Bok team beating England by a comfortable 11 points.

England have won only nine matches of the last 32 they have played against the other top five nations, and regardless of where they play, they should not be a match for the Springboks.

But the Boks were poor against Scotland last week, and will have to play much wiser rugby, and with greater intensity, than they did at Murrayfield. Australia beat England by 14 points last week, and South Africa should be expected to do something similar, or better.

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