Autumn Nations Series: Five talking points ahead of England v Springboks including Manu Tuilagi’s milestone

Dylan Coetzee
Autumn Nations Series: England's Manu Tuilagi looks on.

A mammoth clash awaits in the final round of the Autumn Nations Series, where England face the Springboks in a repeat of the 2019 Rugby World Cup final.

The build-up to the Test has been boisterous, with the Springboks’ off-field issues once again in the spotlight as England are poised to try to capitalise with a win.

Planet Rugby delves into five talking points ahead of the Twickenham Test.

Milestone for Tuilagi

Robust centre Manu Tuilagi will finally reach 50 Test caps when he runs out against the Springboks on Saturday. The 31-year-old achieves the milestone 11 years after his debut after lengthy periods of his England career were destroyed by injury.

Tuilagi, when fit, has proved to be absolutely destructive. The Samoan-born star is a bruising ball carrier and pairs that with a solid turn of pace and offloading game. A player of his quality would easily be a Test centurion by now if it were not for his injury-prone nature.

Credit to England and Sale Sharks for working together to build Tuilagi’s fitness up. Whenever the centre features for England, there is more potency in the backline. There is a sense of anticipation when the Sale Shark is on the ball, with fans almost expecting a moment of magic to happen each time.

Tuilagi has always been a key player for head coach Eddie Jones and England will be hoping the star can keep a clean bill of health in the build-up to next year’s World Cup.

Referee respect

Referees have once again been in the spotlight throughout the Autumn Nations Series after Rassie Erasmus was banned for two games following his exploits on Twitter. Jones has done what he always does, poke the bear in the press conferences building up to the Test.

Jones joked that Erasmus would sneak into the changing room as Jose Mourinho did when coaching Chelsea. The England boss is cleverly leaving the spotlight on South Africa for the build-up to the game but correctly demanded respect for match officials.

However, what the whole debacle does is heap pressure on referee Angus Gardner who will expect all eyes to be on him throughout the game.

Nevertheless, for the sake of rugby itself, one would hope the game runs smoothly with as few controversial moments as possible – something which is extremely challenging given the nature of this fixture in recent times.

Depleted Springboks

Given this clash falls out of the Test window, there are various groups of South Africans who are unavailable for selection, namely England-based players and France-based stars. This leaves Cheslin Kolbe, Cobus Reinach, Andre Esterhuizen, Jasper Wiese and Vincent Koch not in contention for selection.

For the most part the absentees are not too damaging. Kolbe was injured anyways, and recalling Makazole Mapimpi to the starting XV is never a negative. The value of Kurt-Lee Arendse has shot through the roof, with the Bulls star versatile enough to start anywhere in the back three, making his switch from left to right wing a risk-free decision.

Elsewhere, Stormers star Evan Roos finally gets a run in a big game after being stuck behind Wiese in the pecking order. The timing is fantastic as the number eight has been in the Springboks structures for some time now and should be able to slot in with ease. It is a massive game for Roos if he is to push on and knock Wiese off the top of the ladder.

The Springboks are fortunate to have great depth in the areas with absentees, and the situation actually provides opportunity.

Physical battle

The Springboks are a team that always looks to take the confrontational nature of rugby to its extremes, and England are a team that always looks to match that, making for a gladiatorial battle.

The Test at Twickenham has the potential to be one of the most physical encounters this year, headlined by the titanic battle between Maro Itoje and Eben Etzebeth that always promises sheer animalism in the search for dominance.

The battle at scrum time will be gruelling, the battle at the maul fierce, and the battle of the collision extreme as two of rugby’s heavyweights slug it out.

It is going to be a bruising game of vintage variety. So buckle up for a tantalising Twickenham Test.

Both teams looking to end season on a high

The 2022 Test season has been a mixed bag for England and South Africa as both teams have had their ‘under development’ signs on their doors as the two coaches search for combinations, answers and troubleshooting ahead of next year’s World Cup.

Effectively this is the last Test for the coaches to search for answers, and invest in certain combinations or positional development before next year, where the respective action plans for the build-up to the World Cup should be in play.

Thus making this Test a mouth-watering prospect as both teams will be pushing for a win. England will want to continue compounding their Twickenham dominance over the Springboks in recent times, whilst the visitors will be looking to gain a memorable win at the home of rugby.

READ MORE: Autumn Nations Series preview: Physical Springboks to end their year on a high by overpowering struggling England