The Springboks will again have to be outstanding to win because they won’t be done any favours by a referee with a history of seeing it only England’s way, writes Mark Keohane.
Andrew Brace was the referee in charge of the inaugural Nations Cup final between England and France at Twickenham. His bias won England the final and cost France the final.
He made so many crucial mistakes that if it was just down to incompetence, he shouldn’t be handling a Test match of this Saturday’s magnitude.
The French rugby public were so outraged at Brace’s performance that World Rugby withdraw him from officiating any matches in France during the European competitions in 2020. They feared for his safety, such was the response.
But true to form from World Rugby, there was no consequence to Brace.
He will take charge of the most hyped Test match since the 2019 World Cup final featuring the Springboks and England.
The outrageous decision from World Rugby to ban Rassie Erasmus from all rugby with immediate effect is just another element the world champion Boks will have to contend, as is the appointment of the England-loving Brace.
Still, we are backing the Boks to win by 10 points, and we are backing them because of the potency of their scrum and lineout.
It’s been just over two years since the Springbok scrum took England to pieces to lay the platform for their Rugby World Cup final victory. Nothing suggests that this Saturday will be any different when the sides face each other for the first time since 2019.
Former Springbok forwards and scrum coach Matthew Proudfoot may be on the other side for Saturday’s reunion, but given the performance of the Springbok pack over 2021 and the inexperience of England’s, it may make little difference. British writer Paul Williams tweeted a couple of weeks ago that the Springboks have both of the best front rows in the world – their starting one and their bench. It is a luxury not afforded to any other team in world rugby and it will make all the difference as the Springboks look to make it back to back wins against a very strong English side.
The Springbok starting front row of Trevor Nyakane, Bongi Mbonambi and Ox Nche boast between them 108 Test caps. England, in the absence of Jamie George and Ellis Genge, will have to make their selections from Jamie Blamire, Bevan Rodd, Trevor Davison and Nic Dolly, who have just five Test caps between them.
The Springbok reserve unit of Vincent Koch, Malcolm Marx and Steven Kitshoff share even more Test caps between the three of them than the starting front row does, with the substitutes’ total caps accumulating to 133.
The impact of these two front rows interchanging mid-match to take teams apart has been one of the biggest reasons that the Springboks have been so successful this year. The South African scrum was the difference against the British & Irish Lions, just as it was in their victory over the All Blacks and their two wins on tour against very good Welsh and Scottish sides.
The Springboks take pride in their scrum, and they take confidence not only from the one-sided nature of their last encounter with England, but the experience and quality of all six front rowers who will be revved up for a repeat performance of Yokohama, 2019, at Twickenham in 2021.