South Africa will be looking to add to their ten-game unbeaten streak against England when the pair collide at Twickenham on Saturday.
South Africa will be looking to add to their ten-game unbeaten run against England when the two nations collide at Twickenham Stadium on Saturday.
Not since the 2006 November internationals have the Boks been pipped by the Red Rose, which is a streak the English are desperate to stamp out.
Only fly-half Toby Flood was involved in that 23-21 victory at this venue and he is one of just three England players to make their debut pre-2010.
Experience is something that Stuart Lancaster is looking to instill in preparation for Rugby World Cup 2015 and it has to be said that when that tournament kicks off, his squad will have both a healthy amount of wins and defeats to utilise in the memory bank – much like the group of 2003.
South Africa meanwhile seem to be a little further down the road to satisfaction as, despite regular grumbles about the defensive gameplan, the tough Springboks are at least demonstrating the cutthroat edge that is needed to triumph in Test rugby. Their attack will improve given time.
Heyneke Meyer's team selection this week shows trust in his players – as we witnessed in the recent Rugby Championship – and it's that faith in Springboks such as Juan de Jongh and Pat Lambie that he hopes will be repaid. Lambie has been told by Meyer to display greater attacking intent at Twickenham than he did at Murrayfield, which will be music to the ears of their supporters who longed for his inclusion when Morne Steyn was at number ten.
It is a different story for the outfit swapping purple for white this coming Saturday as coach Lancaster has wielded the axe on Thomas Waldrom, Charlie Sharples and Tom Palmer, with Waldrom especially unlucky to get the chop after topping both the carrying and tackle statistics against the Australians. Furthermore it was strange to drop the Leicester number eight seeing as Premiership followers have known for seasons what Waldrom's strengths and specialist skills have been. So why now is it suddenly not what England is looking for? Maybe Ben Morgan's upcoming performance this weekend could shed some light on it.
Sharples' omission, meanwhile, is also a touch harsh as we side with former England left wing Mark Cueto's stance that if Sharples is being given an opportunity then surely one has to afford him time to bed into the set-up. His place goes to Harlequins full-back Mike Brown, someone I have long supported to wear England's fifteen jersey because of the threat he poses both at the back and also when he appears up in the first line of attack. However, to play him on the wing is another bold move as while it may help negate South Africa's kicking plan, it will limit England's wide threat. “We have picked a team that will give us the best chance of beating South Africa,” Lancaster said after also naming lock Joe Launchbury.
Does that mean England will be bombarding Zane Kirchner? The selection of Ben Youngs ahead of their final dropped player, Danny Care, hints at yes. Consequently we shouldn't expect anywhere near a classic fixture at Twickenham this weekend and the likelihood of tries being scored is pretty much summed up by the “No Try-Scorer” betting option being fourth on the bookies' list behind Chris Ashton, Francois Hougaard and JP Pietersen.
If Pietersen – not on press conference duty this week we might add – was to cross the line on Saturday then it would see him overtake wing Chester Williams in the Springboks' try-scoring list while Jean de Villiers will pass Bryan Habana on 83 caps to move behind Joost van der Westhuizen (89). Personal milestones aside though and it will be the all-important result that matters as England hope for a lift while the Springboks go for eleven straight.
Ones to watch:
For England: Obvious backline candidates are Ben Youngs and Mike Brown, with both's kicking game set to play a part in how things materialise. However we go for Ben Morgan and Alex Corbisiero as the England forward duo have a lot of weight on their shoulders this weekend. Morgan made certain Stuart Lancaster could not overlook him with three tries in the LV= Cup while loosehead Corbisiero has to get on top of Bok Jannie du Plessis.
For South Africa: Rain is expected on Saturday so putting their pack in the right areas for direct running will be key from Ruan Pienaar and Patrick Lambie. The duo have class in abundance with power runners like Willem Alberts and Duane Vermuelen to call upon, the territorial gameplan is expected to be another area of importance. How can we ignore Adriaan Strauss' form too as the faith shown in the vice-captain has paid off in spades.
Head-to-head: Despite being in the news for alleged contact with the eye area at Murrayfield, Eben Etzebeth was subsequently cleared of all wrongdoing and is ready to take to the field against England's newest face Joe Launchbury. The young Wasps lock has rave reviews and has definitely demonstrated he has what it takes at the international level when coming off the replacements bench in recent weeks, so their battle is one to keep tabs on. Etzebeth is tough customer so Launchbury must front up. Meanwhile the back-row battle also excites as six high-quality loose forwards go toe-to-toe in what will be a critical area at HQ.
2012: 14-14 draw in Port Elizabeth
2012: South Africa won 36-27 in Johannesburg
2012: South Africa won 22-17 in Durban
2010: South Africa won 21-11 in London
2008: South Africa won 42-6 in London
2007: South Africa won 15-6 in Paris
2007: South Africa won 36-0 in Paris
2007: South Africa won 55-22 in Pretoria
2007: South Africa won 58-10 in Bloemfontein
2006: South Africa won 25-14 in London
2006: England won 23-21 in London
2004: England won 32-16 in London
2003: England won 25-6 in Perth
Prediction: The talk coming out of South Africa's camp is of tired bodies and limited training sessions which, while believable after a long, arduous year, will surely be put to one side in their season finale. Both sides are struggling to show much in an attacking sense but last week the Springboks definitely had more to smile about than England. And with rain set to fall at Twickenham, I just feel the powerful Springboks may edge it by 5 on Saturday!
England: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Manu Tuilagi, 12 Brad Barritt, 11 Mike Brown, 10 Toby Flood, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Ben Morgan, 7 Chris Robshaw (c), 6 Tom Wood, 5 Geoff Parling, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Tom Youngs, 1 Alex Corbisiero.
Replacements: 16 David Paice, 17 David Wilson, 18 Mako Vunipola, 19 Mouritz Botha, 20 James Haskell, 21 Danny Care, 22 Owen Farrell, 23 Jonathan Joseph.
South Africa: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Jean de Villiers (c),