South Africa v England: Lancaster can be optimistic ahead of tour
Stuart Lancaster's England can triumph against a South Africa side boasting new faces for the first Test at Durban on Saturday
England have failed to beat South Africa in their last seven meetings but Stuart Lancaster’s blossoming side have reason to be optimistic ahead of their first Test at Durban on Saturday.
Former England coach Sir Clive Woodward always spoke of the “spine” of a team being the key foundation to his success whilst in charge of England, and essentially, he is referring to the hooker, number eight, half-backs and full back.
For the first time since that memorable World Cup final in 2003, England would appear to be finding their spine once more. Dylan Hartley is in impressive form at hooker and the Northampton Saints captain will provide valuable leadership and experience in a hostile Durban cauldron.
Number eight Ben Morgan has adapted well to international rugby, and if he can continue his Six Nations form, the Springbok defence will have to be at their best to suppress his dynamic bursts from the scrum.
Toby Flood, if fit, can control a game as well as any if on the front foot whilst full-back Mike Brown is making the position his own with consistently high-quality performances.
Looking to the opposition, England have many reasons to be confident ahead of the first Test as new ‘Bok coach Heyneke Meyer has named a team which includes three new caps. Of course, the hosts will expect to win but should England be able to take the early initiative, some of the home side’s “rookies” may struggle to cope.
The set-piece will be absolutely crucial to the Test match with the Springboks taking huge pride in their scrums and lineouts. One of the key battles on the pitch will be between England prop Dan Cole and Tendai Mtawarira – and the Leicester man is only too aware of the enormity of the task that awaits him.
“There’s a couple of talisman in there who carry and get the crowd behind them, in the ‘Beast’ and Bismark du Plessis , and playing together every week will help them as they’ll know each other inside out,” Cole told Rugby365.com.
Cole will look to repel Mtawarira early on in the scrums in order to avoid the humiliating back-peddling which Phil Vickery endured during the first Lion’s Test defeat at the same venue in 2009.
Lineout technician Geoff Parling may also hold a key to gaining an early advantage if he can disrupt the ‘Boks rookie second-row partnership of Juandre Kruger and Eben Etzebeth.
Parling says that England are ready for the physical onslaught that South Africa are sure to provide.
“In training players are flying about,” he told the BBC. “The intensity and competition is good. Everyone is keen to get a Test spot and show what they can do.”
Another important match-up comes at centre with Brad Barritt playing against his native South Africa, and he has been tasked with stopping the formidable Francois Steyn.
This clash will be an intriguing battle between two rugby heavyweights unwilling to take a backward step, and the eventual winner will most likely be the side which is able to maintain the speed of their team’s attack.