Eddie Jones likened the world champion Springboks to a heavyweight boxing contest against George Foreman, but felt his team could do a Muhammad Ali and find the weaknesses in the big brutes of world rugby, writes Mark Keohane.
The Springboks humiliated Jones’s England 32-12 in the 2019 Rugby World Cup final, where the English clearly underestimated the ability of the Springboks and the scrumming power of the South Africans.
The build-up to the final was charaterised by England’s players joking their way through media interviews and seemingly already celebrating winning the title.
It all changed within two minutes of the kick-off when they lost prop Kyle Sinkler to concussion and their scrum disintegrated for the rest of the match.
There has been little joking from the English players this week, despite coming off a comfortable 32-15 win against Australia at Twickenham a week ago.
Jones, whose England have beaten the Wallabies eight times in a row, told the media that South Africa was a very different prospect to the Wallabies: ‘If you are taking on a heavyweight contest and fighting against George Foreman, who can whack and whack and whack and whack, you have to do something a bit different,’ said Jones. ‘We have got four days to come up with something a little bit different. And we will.
‘South Africa present a different challenge, based on the accuracy of their kick and kick-chase, the physicality of their forwards around the ruck and a very strong scrum.
‘The first thing we need to do is be really consistent in our scrummaging, so we don’t allow them access into our half.
‘We have to try to take away their maul and be really good at neutralising their kicks. If we do that, we can create opportunities to attack against them. We will go in prepared for that sort of game.
‘Like any team, they have weaknesses in their defence and we’ll be able to find a few of those.’
The Daily Mail, in reflecting on the win against Australia and the prospect of playing the Springboks, wrote that the ‘quest for vengeance will not suffice. England have to play with more composure and precision, as well as with fire and fury.
‘Against Australia, their scrum struggled against a patched-up Wallaby pack and there were damaging lineout lapses. Worse still, England were eclipsed at the breakdown by a visiting team who scrapped and spoiled to make up for a gulf in class.’
Even Clive Woodward, the former England and British & Irish Lions coach was more circumspect in his initial thoughts on Saturday’s showdown.
Woodward has been very dismissive of South Africa all season, having stated they would not win the British & Irish Lions series and then claiming them fortunate to have won and insisting the Boks were anything but a great side.
Woodward said: ‘There is plenty to work on for England after Saturday. I would expect much better against South Africa and they will need to improve considerably to beat the Boks. England unquestionably deserved to win against Australia and that late score by Jamie Blamire put a gloss on proceedings but Eddie won’t be fooled. There needs to be a big step up against South Africa.
🇿🇦 Minor rotational changes to the Springbok team
➡️ Starts for De Jager, Reinach and Pollard at Twickenham
🗣️ “England have made it clear that they’ll come hard at us in this match”
🔗 Team announcement: https://t.co/978wrrvKfi#StrongerTogether #StrongerForever #ENGvRSA pic.twitter.com/Lzn7ewszf0
— Springboks (@Springboks) November 16, 2021