Eddie Jones has lit the fuse for England’s forward battle with South Africa by declaring his pack are ready to shatter the Springboks’ perception of them as “weak”.
Jones was stung by perceived slights emerging from the South African camp in the wake of their conclusive 32-12 victory in the 2019 World Cup final and views Saturday’s climax to the autumn at Twickenham as the right stage to respond.
England must attempt to subdue the feared Springbok eight, which will be supported by the ‘Bomb Squad’ off the bench, with a front row that contains rookies Bevan Rodd and Jamie Blamire.
Injury and an outbreak of Covid-19 have accounted for Jamie George, Luke Cowan-Dickie and Ellis Genge, leaving rookies Rodd and Blamire to man the barricades alongside the experienced Kyle Sinckler.
Veteran loosehead Joe Marler only leaves self-isolation on Thursday evening and so is confined to a bench role.
Two years ago in Yokohama, South Africa used their scrum to take England apart and despite their weakened state, Jones is demanding his forwards sound a note of defiance.
“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.
“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 and we’re looking forward to that contest up front.
“We don’t have a ‘Bomb Squad’ like South Africa are so proud about, but we have Joe Marler and Will Stuart.
“And with the young guy Nic Dolly from Leicester, we’re looking forward to taking them on in the last 20-30 minutes of the game.
“We looking forward to taking them on in that physicality and we’re also looking forward to try to expose the weaknesses in their game that they do have.
“There’s no team that’s unbeatable, there’s no team that doesn’t have a flaw in whatever they do and sometimes your strength becomes your weakness.”
South Africa enter the final Autumn Nations Series match without boss Rassie Erasmus, who has been banned from all rugby activity for two months because of his verbal attacks on match officials during the summer’s Lions series.
Jones, however, declined to comment on the verdict of the independent disciplinary hearing on the grounds that Erasmus has appealed.
A curve ball has been thrown on England’s right wing where outside centre Joe Marchant is picked ahead of specialist Adam Radwan and the free-scoring Max Malins.
Marchant was left out of the original squad for the autumn but a campaign-ending knee injury sustained by Anthony Watson offered a reprieve that culminates in an opportunity against the world champions.
Jones said: “We know that South Africa are going to come through the air. They have a fairly stated stable game plan and winning the air is an important part of their game.
“We feel that Joe Marchant is one of the best in England in the air so it brings an ability to contest in the air really well. Joe’s a strong defender and strong runner with the ball so it suits the way we want to play.”
Owen Farrell has been ruled out of the final match of a series that has featured wins over Tonga and Australia by an ankle problem, so Marcus Smith forms the midfield alongside Manu Tuilagi and Henry Slade.
Courtney Lawes leads the team for the second time in Farrell’s absence.
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