Springboks

Boks v Eng: 4 big tussles

Duane Vermeulen (Gallo Images)
Duane Vermeulen (Gallo Images)
Cape Town – Collective pride is at stake for both teams, each having come off losses, as England entertain South Africa in a potential Test humdinger at Twickenham on Saturday (16:30 SA time).

But several individual match-ups could be decisive in tilting the balance, and these are four that seem pretty hard to eclipse ...

Willie le Roux v Mike Brown

Here’s hoping for at least reasonably dry weather (that seems in the offing for London at this stage) which would enhance the prospect of the rival fullbacks coming into their own as attacking devices ... because that is easily the favoured string to each electric customer’s bow. This battle is a promoter’s dream: it sees the IRB Player of the Year-nominated Le Roux pit his wits against Brown, who won the Player of the Tournament award in the most recent edition of the Six Nations. The Harlequins favourite has curbed a bit of a “bad boy” image in recent times, to become greatly more focused on his paid profession. If Le Roux has taken his eyes off the ball at times, it’s been more down to a strange inconsistency that has begun to afflict him of late – sometimes even within a specific game, as with last weekend where he started the ill-fated Ireland Test rather better than he ended it. 

JP Pietersen v Jonny May

Three Tests at outside centre and three as a substitute wing this year ... perhaps comfortingly for powerful Bok stalwart Pietersen, he’s finally back in his most familiar No 14 jersey (first time since the triumph over France in Paris in late 2013) for this crunch outing and will want to make the most of this start in the berth ahead of Cornal Hendricks. His second-half appetite was admirable in Dublin, including a late consolation try after turning on the “burners”. But the Japan-based player will have to be defensively alert at Twickenham, too, after seeing the footage of lean-legged England left wing Jonny May smoking the likes of Conrad Smith and Israel Dagg en route to a fine try against the All Blacks last weekend. Swindon-born May, 24, has been the talk of English rugby this week because of that effort. Have some of those oohing, aahing folk forgotten what World Cup winner Pietersen is capable of, perhaps?    

Duane Vermeulen v Billy Vunipola

This may not be portrait-pretty! Two of the most direct, rugged No 8s in world rugby lock horns on Saturday, as the Boks’ unerringly industrious Vermeulen, another who is in line for the IRB Player of the Year mantle, encounters the rare situation of an opposite number outdoing him on the scale by around 10kg: Brisbane-born youngster Vunipola is officially listed at around 126kg. That said, the tale of the tape doesn’t necessarily translate into superior menace: many South Africans and neutrals alike will probably tip Big Duane to eclipse his slightly clumsy-looking rival on all all-round basis. (Just for starters, the South African is an infinitely superior lineout factor.) Mind you, Vunipola is under some pressure to answer critics who feel the hefty unit doesn’t possess the pace or stamina for a full -- or at least near-full -- clash against top-tier foes. He was hauled off after only 51 minutes against New Zealand. And expect him to be rather more in his element if the England pack is rumbling forward ...

Adriaan Strauss v Dylan Hartley

I admit being seriously disappointed that Heyneke Meyer has debatably left Bismarck du Plessis out of the starting mix for “rotational” reasons ... even after singing his praises as one of the limited Bok shining lights at Aviva Stadium last time out. But if it was at least partly motivated by a fear that abrasive Du Plessis may be too quickly wooed into off-ball skirmishes with England’s ever-provocative Hartley, then maybe stationing the more even-tempered Strauss at No 2 may yet prove a near-masterstroke. There can be no doubting the blond dynamo’s own quality. But the Sharks skipper has an aura about him that England may be relieved to sidestep, certainly in the vital early stages when gains are likely to come in inches rather than metres – it is in scenarios like that the brawny Du Plessis so often revels. Is he as effective off the bench? This match may offer up enduring answers ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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