England were bullied into submission in the second half of the first Test in Durban last weekend, losing 22-17, and the Springbok forwards, led by flank Willem Alberts, were the main perpetrators as they seized control of the advantage line.
Coach Stuart Lancaster has stressed the need for England to improve markedly, but has chosen the same pack of starting forwards, while hoping that a shuffled backline will provide more penetration.
“In selection, we had to get the balance right. We need to be defensively strong and robust enough to deal with their big ball-carriers coming around the corner and off the back of the lineout.
“In the last five minutes of the Test, when we had more ball, we did cause them some trouble and we’ll be trying to penetrate in wider channels,” Lancaster said.
Manu Tuilagi, who has shifted inside to replace the injured Brad Barritt, and Jonathan Joseph, making his first Test start, are a rookie midfield pair who are both 21, and England have also changed flyhalf, with Toby Flood coming in for Owen Farrell. Ben Foden has moved to fullback to replace the injured Mike Brown and David Strettle has been recalled on the wing.
“I want Manu to get over the advantage line, we didn’t really achieve that enough last week and I trust that Jonathan is ready having played at the highest level in the Premiership, trained consistently and had the game against the Barbarians.
“Toby can play flat, he kicks well and can move defences around, as well as defending well. He has a tremendous appetite to win, he’s ready and it’s his time,” Lancaster explained.
The Springboks have made just one, injury-enforced change to their starting line-up, with Pat Lambie replacing Zane Kirchner at fullback.
The 21-year-old is the more exciting option and Springbok captain Jean de Villiers warned that his team should be even more of a threat this weekend, with the extra time together they have had.
“Last week, the main thing was to just win and there were a lot of butterflies, including for me. We weren’t great last Saturday, there’s a helluva lot to improve, but this week, things have happened more naturally. We haven’t had to think first about what we are doing so much. It takes a while to get used to each other, but things are becoming more instinctive and it’s much easier to play when that happens.
“One week is a long time in rugby and I’ve seen the difference in training. Last week we were a side with fantastic individuals but we weren’t a team yet. We’re closer now,” De Villiers said.
The veteran centre admitted that his team will have to closely police Tuilagi, who at 112kg weighs the same as the Springboks’ loosehead prop Tendai “The Beast” Mtawarira.
“England have made their backline changes due to injury, but Tuilagi is a quality player no matter where he is. At 12 he will be running in the channel where there is a bit more traffic and he won’t have as much opportunity for one-on-ones. But he will get more ball and we need to stop him,” De Villiers said.
The Springbok outside centre said Tuilagi and Joseph will also benefit from having the experienced Flood, who has been capped 47 times, inside them.
“England’s one centre is making his run-on debut while the other is still in his first year of international rugby, so Toby’s experience counts for a lot. He has a good passing game and he kicks well, so I think he’ll make a big difference. We have to make sure we keep the pressure on him and not give him time and space,” De Villiers said.
Ellis Park is one of the most daunting venues though in world rugby and the effects of altitude at 1763 metres above sea level will also be in the favour of the home team. The conditions will suit their much-vaunted kicking game and Lancaster knows his side have to stop the Springboks from building any momentum to have a chance of beating them.
“They’ve chosen the same team except for Pat Lambie, who is clearly a talented footballer and obviously poses a different threat, so I imagine they’ll use the same formula which was pretty successful last week. We have to prepare for their kicking game and put pressure on Morne Steyn [flyhalf]. When they got momentum in the second half, they had tremendous ball-carries, so we need to defend better,” Lancaster said.
South Africa – 15-Pat Lambie, 14-JP Pietersen, 13-Jean de Villiers, 12-Francois Steyn, 11-Bryan Habana, 10-Morne Steyn, 9-Francois Hougaard, 8-Pierre Spies, 7-Willem Alberts, 6-Marcell Coetzee, 5-Juandre Kruger, 4-Eben Etzebeth, 3-Jannie du Plessis, 2-Bismarck du Plessis, 1-Tendai Mtawarira. Bench: 16-Adriaan Strauss, 17-Werner Kruger, 18-Flip van der Merwe, 19-Keegan Daniel, 20-Ruan Pienaar, 21-Wynand Olivier, 22-Bjorn Basson.
England – 15-Ben Foden, 14-Chris Ashton, 13-Jonathan Joseph, 12-Manusamoa Tuilagi, 11-David Strettle, 10-Toby Flood, 9-Ben Youngs, 8 Ben Morgan, 7-Chris Robshaw, 6-Tom Johnson, 5-Geoff Parling, 4-Mouritz Botha, 3-Dan Cole, 2-Dylan Hartley, 1-Joe Marler. Replacements: 16-Lee Mears, 17-Alex Corbisiero, 18-Tom Palmer, 19-Thomas Waldrom, 20-Lee Dickson, 21-Owen Farrell, 22-Alex Goode.
Referee – Alain Rolland (Ireland).