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Boks set for front-row dominance in RWC rematch with England

November 18, 2021 GMT
England players greet each other after the rugby union international between England and Australia at Twickenham stadium in London, Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021. England won the match 32-15. (AP Photo/Ian Walton)
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England players greet each other after the rugby union international between England and Australia at Twickenham stadium in London, Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021. England won the match 32-15. (AP Photo/Ian Walton)
1 of 2
England players greet each other after the rugby union international between England and Australia at Twickenham stadium in London, Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021. England won the match 32-15. (AP Photo/Ian Walton)

Watching back the 2019 Rugby World Cup final hasn’t been part of Tom Curry’s preparations for England’s test match against the South Africa on Saturday.

The flanker feels he knows what’s coming.

“In terms of looking back at previous games and how they are going to play, you can get a pretty good idea,” Curry said.

Brutalizing England with their traditional power at the set-piece set up a 32-12 win for the Boks in Yokohama and their third world title.

Their tactics are unlikely to change two years on for the countries’ first meeting since that final. Especially given the England pack they’ll be facing at Twickenham.

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England coach Eddie Jones is down to his third-choice hooker in Jamie Blamire, who has made only three starts for his club, Newcastle, and whose backup is an uncapped player, Nic Dolly. Then there’s Bevan Rodd, a prop who’ll be winning just his second cap and was drafted into the squad only as cover following coronavirus-related withdrawals. Among them is Joe Marler, who exited self-isolation only on Friday having contracted COVID-19 yet has still been named on the bench.

It’s a front row that hardly appears ready for the toughest examination of scrummaging in test rugby.

Jones, though, is confident his players are ready.

“They said after the World Cup final, where they beat us fair and square, that they knew how to play to us, they knew where our weaknesses were and they were implying that our forward pack was weak,” Jones said, perhaps attempting to create something of a siege mentality.

“Siya Kolisi after the World Cup final said he knew how to beat us. Obviously their game is based on physicality so the implication is that they can go over our forward pack. But our English forward pack won’t be weak on Saturday. We’ll have 82,000 people supporting that forward pack.”

Will that be enough, though?

It was the Springboks’ pack — plus the “Bomb Squad” off the bench — that eventually overwhelmed Scotland in a 30-15 win at Murrayfield last weekend. A week earlier, they opened their end-of-year tour of Britain with a 23-18 win over Wales in Cardiff.

Now comes a World Cup final rematch at Twickenham, where the Boks haven’t beaten England since 2014. And they’ll have to do so without the help of Rassie Erasmus, South Africa’s director of rugby who has been banned for two months and barred from attending test matches in an official role for 10 months as punishment for criticizing a referee during the British and Irish Lions series.

Erasmus was South Africa coach at the 2019 World Cup and part of his backroom staff was Matt Proudfoot, the scrum coach regarded as one of the masterminds behind the team’s success. Proudfoot has since been poached by England so should be able to provide some inside info on the world champions whose pack contains five players who started the World Cup final.

“This is the most important game of the year for us,” Proudfoot said. “Our mindset is to confront it, go head on and not back away from it.”

Boks coach Jacques Nienaber was diplomatic this week, praising the English pack and saying his analysis shows “they are actually quite similar to us” in that department.

“They’ve had 21 scrums to exit and attack from, and they’ve got 14 penalties from those scrums, which is a good percentage,” he said.

“If you look at what they did against Australia, they had four scrums and won three penalties. It is a big challenge for us.”

Jones has also been forced to make changes in his back division, too, following the injury-enforced withdrawal of captain Owen Farrell, who hurt an ankle in the 32-15 win over Australia last Saturday.

Manu Tuilagi comes back into the midfield from the wing, where he played out of position against the Wallabies. Onto the wing goes another specialist center, Joe Marchant, who was left out of the original squad for the autumn but got a reprieve following a campaign-ending knee injury sustained by Anthony Watson.

England’s pack also includes five players who started the 2019 World Cup final. Curry, meanwhile, is one of three forwards in England’s team who played in the Lions series against the Springboks

Asked what lessons he can take from that series, Curry said: “Probably don’t play them at their own game -- a lot of kicks and slowing the game down.

“You probably shoot yourselves in the foot if you get in that cycle with them, because that’s what they want, isn’t it?”

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Lineups:

England: Freddie Steward, Joe Marchant, Henry Slade, Manu Tuilagi, Jonny May, Marcus Smith, Ben Youngs; Tom Curry, Sam Underhill, Courtney Lawes (captain), Jonny Hill, Maro Itoje, Kyle Sinckler, Jamie Blamire, Bevan Rodd. Reserves: Nic Dolly, Joe Marler, Will Stuart, Charlie Ewels, Alex Dombrandt, Sam Simmonds, Raffi Quirke, Max Malins.

South Africa: Willie le Roux, Jesse Kriel, Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Makazole Mapimpi, Handre Pollard, Cobus Reinach; Duane Vermeulen, Kwagga Smith, Siya Kolisi (captain), Lood de Jager, Eben Etzebeth, Trevor Nyakane, Bongi Mbonambi, Ox Nché. Reserves: Malcolm Marx, Steven Kitshoff, Vincent Koch, Franco Mostert, Jasper Wiese, Herschel Jantjies, Elton Jantjies, Frans Steyn.

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