Preview – Boks vs England (2nd Test)

JON CARDINELLI analyses the key match-ups and picks the winner of the Ellis Park clash.

England blew their best chance of a win in Durban and it could be that the next two matches are more about damage control than anything else.

Can this England side really claw their way back into contention, can they win at altitude when they couldn’t win at the coast?

In 2009, the British & Irish Lions lost the first Test in Durban and while they came close to winning the second fixture in Pretoria, the Boks were ultimately too good. If the four home unions combined weren’t good enough to topple the Boks, how can England, and an inexperienced England at that, be expected to upset the South Africans at altitude?

These are the questions the English will be asking themselves, and I’m sure that there won’t be too many who truly feel they can succeed where so many of their countrymen have failed.

English optimists will argue that the Bok class of 2009 was one of the finest teams in history, and the current side is not as imposing or settled. It is true in the sense that the Boks recently blooded four new players, and that the second-row, loose-trio and midfield combinations are not established.

But there is still a lot of class and experience in this Bok side, and more than a few have not only beaten England in South Africa, but at Twickenham as well.

They know what it takes to beat England, as does the new coach Heyneke Meyer. His tactics have been spot on thus far, and the Bok game plan should prove effective this weekend.

Both the English and the South Africans have spoken at length about the gainline battle. The game was won by the Boks last week, but the honours were shared at the collisions in the sense that England won the first half and South Africa the second.

The Boks will be aiming for a more clinical showing at the breakdown, and an emphasis on ball security should provide their carriers in the subsequent phases, as well as their halfbacks, with more room to operate.

The Boks shouldn’t lose to this England side, but a complacent attitude will bring the tourists into the match. England have some impressive forwards capable of stifling or in some instances stealing the ball at the breakdown.

Accuracy has been the watchword in the Bok camp this week, and all forms of discipline will be paramount in Saturday’s match. The Boks need to clear the English away from the ruck in order to provide halfbacks Francois Hougaard and Morné Steyn with the necessary time to make measured decisions, be it to kick for territory or bring South Africa’s strapping centres into the game.

Stuart Lancaster has been forced to reshuffle his backline. The English will miss Brad Barritt at No 12, as he’s not only a solid defender in the tackling sense, but also a very competitive and effective player at the breakdown.

Manu Tuilagi has been shifted to No 12 in Barritt’s absence, and while it’s a move that could prove successful, the impact of Tuilagi will depend on the performance of the English pack. If Tuilagi doesn’t receive front-foot ball, he will struggle to make good gains against the robust and savvy midfield pair of Frans Steyn and Jean de Villiers. The South Africans may not have enjoyed a great deal of time together as a combination, but individually they boast a lot of experience.

It could be that Morné Steyn is identified as the soft underbelly of this otherwise defensively solid Bok backline. Having said that, if the English forwards don’t fire and Tuilagi doesn’t receive a platform, the rampage down the No 10 channel will be easier to manage.

The selection of Tuilagi and Jonathan Joseph as a midfield combination has been criticised, and it could be that the whole 10-12-13 line-up is exposed. The Bok forwards should be more accurate and there should be more opportunities to run at the England defence. Toby Flood isn’t the world’s best defender in the No 10 channel, and Joseph is playing at 13, the most difficult defensive position in the backline. No doubt the Boks will be looking to exploit Flood’s weakness and Joseph’s inexperience.

That’s not to say the Boks will be running every ball at the midfield. The Bok pack would do well to protect Hougaard at the ruck base, and there will be a different sort of pressure on the Bok No 9 this week, that is the pressure to produce a high standard of box kicks and tactical probes.

Morné Steyn has a big role to play in this regard, and will also look to improve on his mediocre goal-kicking performance in Durban. The Boks have other strong tactical kicking options in Frans Steyn and Pat Lambie, and expect all of these players to contribute as the South Africans strive for territorial ascendancy.

When this plan comes together it can be devastating, and if the Boks can be more clinical in accumulating points in the first half, there could be a more expansive display in the second.

Establishing a commanding half-time lead will force England to chase the game in the second stanza (they need to win to keep the series alive). A looser, more ambitious approach by England could backfire and provide more scoring opportunities for the Boks. It’s for this reason that the hosts may end up winning by a big margin.

JC’S CALL: Boks by 15

Springboks – 15 Pat Lambie, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jean de Villiers (c), 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Juandré Kruger, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Beast Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Werner Kruger, 18 Flip van der Merwe, 19 Keegan Daniel, 20 Ruan Pienaar, 21 Wynand Olivier, 22 Bjorn Basson.

England – 15 Ben Foden, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Manu Tuilagi, 11 David Strettle, 10 Toby Flood, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Ben Morgan, 7 Chris Robshaw (c), 6 Tom Johnson, 5 Geoff Parling, 4 Mouritz Botha, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley, 1 Joe Marler.
Subs: 16 Lee Mears, 17 Alex Corbisiero, 18 Tom Palmer, 19 Thomas Wadrom, 20 Lee Dickson, 21 Owen Farrell, 22 Alex Goode.