The Springboks have a new coach in Heyneke Meyer and the first test against England comes just seven days after two intense SuperRugby derbies between the top-of-the-conference Stormers and Bulls and the challengers, the Sharks, against the Lions.
“I pity Heyneke because it’s going to be very hard trying to prepare a team for a test one week after those derbies, while England will have two weeks’ preparation,” Mallett told reporters in Johannesburg on Wednesday.
“Heyneke was my assistant with the Springboks before and he will understand that if he loses a single test, then he will be crapped out. He has to win all three tests in order to buy himself some time to develop his philosophy,” Mallett, who was South Africa’s head coach between 1997 and 2000, said.
“So I believe Heyneke’s mantra will be execution above innovation and it will be a very conservative team and game plan – he’ll be happy to win 25-18 with a handful of penalties, a drop goal and a breakaway try.”
Mallett, who was close to being appointed as England coach himself following the end of his contract with Italy, warned, however, that the visitors should not be underestimated.
“I would not be surprised if England sneak a game. They’re a very strong team, they’re bringing an air of confidence out of the Six Nations, as the tourmament developed, so did they. They’re scoring tries and they’re really well coached – Stuart Lancaster needed to bring pride back to the country and the jersey and he did that by picking the youngsters.
“It seemed definite that I would get the England job, but after the way Stuart Lancaster performed in the Six Nations, it was very difficult to drop him. It was very clear that they needed to turn over a new leaf and he’s given England the ability to counter-attack and they can hurt the Springboks,” Mallett said.
The Italy coach up until the end of last year’s World Cup pinpointed England’s halfbacks, loose forwards, front row and South African-born centre Brad Barritt as being stellar players.
“Owen Farrell at 10 is an outstanding talent, he’s a bit like Henry Honiball [Mallett’s flyhalf during the Springboks’ record 17 successive wins between 1997 and 1998] – his defence is great and his tactical kicking is good.
“Their front row of Alex Corbisiero, Dylan Hartley and Dan Cole has really come through and I think they’ll give the Springboks a real going-over.
“And England have great scrumhalves in Danny Care and Ben Youngs, they can both kick and they’re very quick and they like taking on the defence.
“But Barritt is the key player in the backline, he is tenacious, solid, he can take the ball up and he’s a good communicator and tackler. He believes he has the ability to play at that level, despite being ignored in the previous set-up.
“And the loosies, with Chris Robshaw in front, will be in the Springboks’ faces as well. The big question for England is can they match the Springboks in the physical exchanges?” Mallett said, adding that he felt there were several question marks in the selection of the South African pack.
The first test between South Africa and England will be played in Durban on June 9, followed by tests in Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth.
England have previously played 10 tests in South Africa, winning three and losing seven. Their last game in the republic was in 2007, when they lost 55-22 in Pretoria.