England will be looking for a first win over South Africa since 2006 when they run out at Twickenham in their November opener on Saturday.
Many believe that drought will end this weekend due to the English enjoying an impressive year under Eddie Jones while the Springboks are in a completely different boat going into the game. The pressure is on Allister Coetzee and a significant loss would not help him one bit.
Over the last 12 months South Africa have won four and lost five games which, to their expectant supporters, is far from good enough. The embarrassing 57-15 defeat to New Zealand in Durban is still a demon they want to bury but a victory at Twickenham would certainly do that.
They have previous here, having won in 2014, 2012, 2010 and 2008, but even their most avid fans would admit the Springbok isn’t the feared animal it once was. Hence head coach Coetzee seems to have reverted to bigger being better in his selection as he hopes for an arm-wrestle.
England though are more streetwise and have developed their game with new strings added to their bow under Jones. They have brought back a fiery edge but also have ball players all over the park, with three World Rugby Player of the Year nominees in their midst richly deserved.
Speaking of which, expect the Vunipolas to impress along with Owen Farrell while Jonny May completes his comeback from injury with a start on the wing. Next to Farrell will be Elliot Daly, who is deserving of a start ahead of Jonathan Joseph after a strong few months at Wasps.
Victory this Saturday would be another step towards an unbeaten 2016 for England, with Fiji, Argentina and Australia to come heading into December. With the Springboks struggling, one would expect the latter two opponents to pose the greatest threat but if they do show signs of rust this week or are not up to pace physically, South Africa have the men to punish them up front and Pat Lambie will do the rest.
Jones surely won’t allow that though as squad meetings before November have certainly been full on – dare we mention judo – so expect England to be prepared and targeting that elusive win over South Africa on a day when rain is expected. Let’s hope it doesn’t impact on the spectacle.
Players to watch:
For England: Kicking duties will be with Owen Farrell on Saturday, which seems to help George Ford’s game on the international stage as it allows him to focus on other aspects. Farrell rarely lets his team down and he’ll need to be solid defensively against the straight running of Damian de Allende. That he should be as the centre has been at the top of his game this year, with another strong performance expected.
For South Africa: Having Ruan Combrinck back is massive for South Africa as he was the country’s best wing during Super Rugby. Deceptively powerful for his size, Combrinck will hope to catch a returning Jonny May cold defensively in what should be a fascinating clash wide out.
Head-to-head: If, as expected, it’s going to be raining then there promises to be plenty of work for Mike Brown and Willie le Roux to get through. Brown, despite pressure from Alex Goode over the years, has admirably kept hold of his spot for England and it’s his reliability at the back that obviously makes him such a favourite to Eddie Jones. Le Roux meanwhile has been far from assured over the past 12 months as missed tackles and strange option taking saw his form dip. After a break he’s now back so his performance will be under the microscope.
2014: South Africa won 31-28 at Twickenham
2012: South Africa won 16-15 at Twickenham
2012: 14-14 draw in Port Elizabeth
2012: South Africa 36-27 in Johannesburg
2012: South Africa won 22-17 in Durban
2010: South Africa won 21-11 at Twickenham
2008: South Africa won 42-6 at Twickenham
2007: South Africa won 15-6 in Paris
2007: South Africa won 36-0 in Paris
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
Replacements: 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
South Africa: 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, 1 Tendai Mtawarira
Replacements: 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
Date: Saturday, November 12
Kick-off: 14:30 GMT
Referee: Jérôme Garcès (France)
Assistant Referees: Glen Jackson (New Zealand), Andrew Brace (Ireland)
TMO: Jon Mason (Wales)