The Phil Vickery column

Date published: June 16 2012


In the second edition of a series of exclusive columns, former England prop Phil Vickery examines England's chances in Jo'burg.

In the second installment of a series of exclusive columns for Planet Rugby, former England prop Phil Vickery examines England's chances in Johannesburg.

With England embarking on what many would call an 'old-fashioned tour' of South Africa, the Raging Bull will be sharing his thoughts on the three-Test Series over the next month.

Phil Vickery is an Official Ambassador of Wooden Spoon, the leading Rugby Charity. 'Spoon' is a children's charity founded in 1983, dedicated to helping disadvantaged children and young people across the British Isles live happier, richer lives. 'Spoon' partner with the UK rugby community, and during our first 25 years, over half a million young people benefited form over £18 million of charitable support. WS is proud of its legacy, the work it does, and the ambitious plans for the future. Visit for further details.

Well, Saturday went pretty much as we thought it might – an attritional war with South Africa's extra bulk being the deciding factor. Despite this, many good things came from the England side: the debut performance of Joe Marler; the robust game of Manu Tuilagi and also the setpiece – which went a lot better than some had feared.

Despite this, England aided and abetted their own downfall. There's an old adage in rugby that good chasing defines good kicking and England's kick chasing was woeful and disorganised, in stark contrast with the South African side, who chased with purpose and intent. Stuart Lancaster's attention to detail in his tenure has been exceptional and I cannot understand why the importance of the chase has been overlooked, but I'm sure it's something they'll look hard and strong at during the week.

Tom Johnson also went well – industrious, surprisingly nimble and very technically gifted. The other flank, Chris Robshaw, showed just what an effective international he is becoming. People have long lamented England's perceived lack of a traditional 7, but Robshaw's workrate, intelligence and leadership is making an absolute mockery of those comments. He is both an exceptional Test player and leader.

True to form, Stuart has stuck with the majority of players used in the first Test, but I'm delighted to see a first start for the incredible talents of Jonathan Joseph. Many have compared JJ's footwork to that of Jeremy Guscott and the parallel is there for all to see. Now I'm a front rower so commenting on back play is normally out of my job description, but I have seen enough to be convinced this man has the potential to be in England's 3/4 line for years to come.

By saying that, moving Tuilagi to inside centre robs England of a second kicking option in the 12 channel, something you'd think they may have wanted on the Highveld (Ellis Park is very much 'at altitude') but Flood will offer more both variety and more risk at 10, and perhaps this is a show of intent that England will play a more running based game.

I also saw glimpses of Mike Brown's Premiership form for Quins despite the missed tackle that broke his thumb. With SA using a high aerial game, Lancaster's strategy in effectively having two full-backs was a good one, and I'm sure Alex Goode will feature off the bench on Saturday.

The midweek side impressed greatly although we have to remember they were playing a scratch side. Thomas Waldrom added massive yards from the base, both locks were very impressive and elsewhere, Christian Wade showed just what promise he has with a superb hat trick.

Ellis Park again will be a massive test of this young England side. Durban, for all its colour and vibrancy, is at sea level. When you move up to the Highveld, you move up another gear altogether in terms of fitness requirements. Nothing will prepare these youngsters for the feeling they will have after 15 minutes; when their throats are on fire and their legs are anchored to the turf through fatigue.

If England were to win a Test, I always fancied it would be the first one, and I believe it'll take a Herculean effort to succeed in Jo-burg. However, with the right game plan, I'm sure we have the personnel to succeed and here's hoping it'll be every bit as thrilling as the first test!.



Phil Vickery MBE won 73 Test caps for England and five for the British and Irish Lions. He was part of England's 2003 World Cup-winning team and captained the side to the World Cup Final in 2007.