Preview: South Africa v England

Date published: June 22 2012

The odds seem stacked against England salvaging a Test win over South Africa in Saturday's tour-ending clash in Port Elizabeth.

The odds seem stacked against England salvaging a Test win over South Africa in Saturday's tour-ending clash in Port Elizabeth.

It's been 12 years since England claimed victory on South African soil and a win for the Springboks at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium would make it ten in a row – the longest sequence of wins ever recorded between the teams.

While the results of the first two Tests this June suggest that the tourists came close to ending their long streak, it would be fair to say the hosts never realistically looked like succumbing in either encounter.

The Springboks were always going to have a far larger margin for progression in the three weeks with their new coach compared to a relatively settled England side that had played the Six Nations together. And South Africa's first half-an-hour at Ellis Park was a massive step up from their performance in the opening Test. That early blitz was the best rugby we've seen from a Springbok side in years but Heyneke Meyer firmly believes they can get a lot better.

As Meyer suggested in the immediate aftermath of England's dogged comeback, if the Boks can put together the second half from Durban with the opening 40 minutes from Jo'burg, they will be near unstoppable.

Ominous words for Stuart Lancaster and co. to digest, especially considering that England will take the field in PE without their two best players on tour – skipper Chris Robshaw and scrum-half Ben Youngs.

The Boks are dealing with a few setbacks too – and some selections have caused heated debate amongst the SA public – but the general consensus is that it would be a massive surprise if the home side didn't wrap up a 3-0 series win.

Indeed, there is now an expectation for the Boks to drive home their perceived advantage and win big. But fans of the green and gold should not overlook the significance of their own absentees, especially Willem Alberts and Frans Steyn.

Those betting their mortgage on a home win should be reminded of the third Test against the British and Irish Lions in 2009. Lest we forget that England were level at half-time in Durban and outscored their hosts 17-11 in the second half in Jozi – so they are carrying a fair amount of momentum and self belief.

Much has been made of the physical threat posed by the Springboks but pundits will do well to remember that England are 4kg per man heavier than South Africa up front. The average weight of the England pack is 113kg while the Springbok forwards weigh in at an average of 109kg.

So, the tourists are not at a physical disadvantage. How they use that bulk however will be more important and it will be interesting to note what impact the addition of Thomas Waldrom and James Haskell has on England's ability to compete in the trenches.

Some might even suggest that Lancaster has gone overboard in trying to match the Boks for muscle as the midfield partnership of two specialist 13s that failed to create much at Ellis Park has been retained.

Trying to match the Boks for grunt is one thing but it's a rare sight to see the men in green bullied. If England are to go home with a victory they need to find a way around the wall, not through it. How long before we see a ball player at 12? Does the solution lie in jersey 21 on the England bench?

Players to watch:

For South Africa: The last time the Boks visited the PE, Jacques Potgieter was in the stands and promised a friend he'd be back a year later to watch the game with him, never suspecting that he would be on the field himself. Indeed, the Bulls flank's rise has been nothing sort of meteoric – this time last year Potgieter was playing second division domestic rugby. After a standout Super Rugby season, the 26-year-old has the unenviable task – on debut – of filling the boots of Willem Alberts. He hasn't played for over a month after dislocating his kneecap, which makes his selection all the more surprising. There will be no time for rustiness on Saturday though. Meyer has, however, come in for a fair amount of criticism for favouring the Bulls and it's fair to say that Wynand Olivier probably would not have made the cut had he played for any other team. But Meyer loves stability and Meisiekind's partnership with Morne Steyn is a tried and tested formula. Defence coach John McFarland reckons Olivier was South Africa's best defender when he came on in Johannesburg and he'll have plenty of opportunity to show his tackling ability against the hulk that is Manu Tuilagi.

For England: After attracting plenty of headlines for his off-field indiscretions earlier this year, Danny Care has earned a recall – ahead of Lee Dickson – thanks to an excellent showing for the midweek team. It will be the Harlequins scrum-half's first England appearance since August. Care will be charged with generating much-needed go-forward ball and sparking some life into an England attack that has failed to fire on all cylinders. Highlanders flank James Haskell has been called in to fill the hole left by Robshaw but will be expected to bring a more aggressive game than the injured skipper as England try to cope with the Boks' full-frontal assault. England fly-half Toby flood will win his 50th cap. The 26-year-old needs ten more points to break the 250 Test point barrier.

Head-to-head: With these teams playing similar styles of rugby, the battle of the number eights should make for entertaining viewing. While Pierre Spies will be winning his 50th Test cap, Thomas Waldrom will be making his first start for England after coming off the bench last week. Spies' ball-carrying ability and speed have been well documented but his critics – and there are many – claim he goes missing when the going gets tough. The label of “flat track bully” has become a favourite. But the rampaging Bull had one of his best games for ages last week and will be keen to build on that performance. Waldrom is far less appealing to the eye as a pure physical specimen, but 'Thomas the Tank Engine' is an awfully hard man to stop. If it rains on Saturday, which is likely, his grunt in the tight stuff could prove invaluable – especially if it means Spies is denied opportunities to go galloping. Both teams will also be lining up their third full-back of the series. Proficient kicker and the deceptively fast Alex Goode makes his debut. But like his opposite number Gio Aplon, Goode's first instinct is to counter-attack. The danger for both players is to overdo it as they aim to grab a rare opportunity to impress. Errors at Test level will be severely punished.

Previous results:
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