England are targeting a clean sweep of Autumn Nations Series victories when odds-on favourites South Africa visit Twickenham on Saturday.
Here, the PA news agency looks at five talking points heading into the game.
Fired up England
In a performance worthy of a boxing promoter, Jones lit the fuse on Thursday by outlining England’s determination to correct the South African perception that the home pack is “weak”. Jones has taken comments made by Springboks captain Siya Kolisi in the wake of the 2019 World Cup final defeat as a slight to fire-up his team, declaring “our English forward pack won’t be weak on Saturday”. On this occasion the target of his mind games are not the opposition but his own players.
Rookies take centre stage
Jones’ forwards require all the motivation they can muster when they enter battle with the feared South African eight, needing herculean performances from a raw front row that contains only a combined five caps at loosehead prop and hooker. Bevan Rodd and Jamie Blamire are the rookies aiming deliver the performances of their young lives, especially in the scrum where the Springboks will attack hard with the ‘Bomb Squad’ providing reinforcements. England’s resources have been depleted by injury and an outbreak of Covid, but this is a chance for new reputations to be forged.
Both sides have distanced the 44th meeting between the rivals from their most recent collision, yet the World Cup final in Yokohama looms large over Saturday. England were well beaten two years ago as the team that crushed New Zealand a round earlier failed to show up. From the moment Kyle Sinckler was knocked out inside the first three minutes, the writing was on the wall with barely a shot fired in one of the low points in the nation’s rugby history. Revenge has been discounted as a motivation but a win against the odds would taste sweet and usher in a triumphant autumn for Jones’ ‘new England’.
Whatever unfolds at Twickenham, South Africa’s architect of a glorious 2019 will not be there to see it. After two-and-a-half weeks of deliberation, the damning verdict on six misconduct charges made against Rassie Erasmus was finally delivered on Wednesday evening. The Springboks’ boss has been banned from all rugby activity for two months and must not engage in any matchday activities for almost a year. The 80-page written judgement revealed the human toll Erasmus’ hour-long critique of the match officials’ performance during the first Test against the Lions has taken on referee Nic Berry. Lamentably, Erasmus is being viewed as a martyr in South Africa where it is hoped his absence on Saturday will galvanise the team.
Maro Itoje going toe to toe with Eben Etzebeth once again and Marcus Smith’s personal dual with Handre Pollard are contests to savour, but it is perhaps the midfield that will emerge as the most intriguing battle ground at Twickenham. Heavyweight carriers face off at inside centre when Manu Tuilagi and Damian de Allende collide, while outside them Henry Slade and Lukhanyo Am will probe with greater subtlety. Both combinations are well balanced and should provide fireworks.
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