Chris Hewett assesses the likely impact of some true Yorkshire grit.
John Bentley, James Small. James Small, John Bentley. Ever since the two fiery threequarters first went eyeball to eyeball in Cape Town six months ago, they have been bracketed together like Burke and Hare: the salt of the earth Englishman and the South African wide boy, each as brash and boisterous as the other. They will meet again at Twickenham on Saturday and even though they have been picked on opposite wings, the odds are on an early renewal of hostilities.
Both men professed a profound lack of interest yesterday in harping on about their previous collision at Newlands, when Small accused Bentley of eye-gouging and Bentley accused Small of rank bad sportsmanship in refusing to shake his hand at the end of an explosive third match in what became a triumphant tour for the Lions. Their reasoning was sound enough; after all, Bentley will have to handle the prolific Pieter Rossouw while Small must content himself with the sharper, snappier threat posed by the diminutive David Rees.
Yet the two arch antagonists possess that unique something - call it star quality if you like - that consistently places them on centre stage, directly under the brightest spotlight in the house. They do not like each other much, if at all, and 75,000 Twickenham spectators will be hoping against hope that they "get it on" again on Saturday.
Bentley, now 31 but yet to play for his country at Twickers, wins his fourth cap on merit. Rees, a left wing by instinct and breeding even though he plays all his club rugby for Sale on the right, shifts across field to make way for him, with the unfortunate Adedayo Adebayo missing out altogether. Clive Woodward, the England coach, believes Bentley's competitive spirit, his bottomless reservoir of attitude with a capital A, will harden the collective mindset against a world champion outfit rejuvenated by a convincing brace of Test victories in France.
"It hasn't really sunk in," said Bentley yesterday, 24 hours after giving his considerable all for the English Rugby Partnership XV against the All Blacks in Bristol on Tuesday night. "I really enjoyed that game against New Zealand, which went far better for me than the previous match for Emerging England in Huddersfield. But it was not until 7.30 yesterday morning that I was told to pack my boots and get myself up to London. If you'd asked me before Tuesday's match, or even immediately after it, if I thought I was in with a chance of a Test place against the Springboks, I'd have said no."
Small was equally upbeat. "This is the best South African side I've been involved with," he asserted. "The coach has an open-door policy and the senior players are treated as adults. I still enjoy the bad boy image - after all, it's good for business - and the fires still burn in me, but I've calmed down a little now."
If this weekend's desperately difficult match represents the "final piece in the jigsaw" for Bentley, it represents wholly different things for the other newcomers. For Matthew Dawson, who replaces the injured Kyran Bracken at scrum-half, and Neil Back, in on form at open-side flanker, it is a clear case of deja vu. Both have spent time at the head of the pecking order, only to find themselves rejected in the flicker of an eyelid.
For Danny Grewcock, the athletic lock forward from Saracens who replaces the banned Martin Johnson, it is a whole new ballgame. The cap he won in Argentina during the summer will always have a place on his mantelpiece, but he knows it was earned in the absence of Johnson, Simon Shaw and any number of injured competitors. This latest achievement is of another dimension - an opportunity to lock horns with a genuine world power on the biggest stage of all.
"We'd have liked Johnno to have played, of course," Woodward said yesterday. "He's a world-class forward. But I have no problems with Danny coming in; he has a massive future in front of him and while he knows he is not first choice at the moment, he'll be as pumped up as anyone. In fact, I'm very happy with the whole side. The South Africans have a new coach and a sense of freshness about them - but we have confidence too and we are in no doubt whatsoever that this is a game we can win."
Along with his fellow selectors, Woodward chewed more fat over his back row selection than on any other area of his line-up. Although Lawrence Dallaglio, the captain, stays on the blind-side flank and Richard Hill moves from the open side to No 8, those positions are purely for the programme editors. The two will mix and match, depending on where a particular scrummage happens to be situated and which scrum-half is inserting the ball. In all probability, Dallaglio will attempt to capitalise on his startling second-half contribution at No 8 against the All Blacks last Saturday by filling the position at attacking set-pieces.
"Tim Rodber would have come under consideration after his match against the New Zealanders on Tuesday, but he finished the game with severe concussion and will not be available for three weeks," Woodward said. With Tony Diprose also unavailable with shoulder trouble - Bracken was forced to withdraw with a similar injury - the selectors may just have stumbled on a trio of exciting potential.
ENGLAND TEAM v SOUTH AFRICA
M Perry (Bath); J Bentley (Newcastle), P de Glanville (Bath) or N Greenstock (Wasps), W Greenwood (Leicester), D Rees (Sale); M Catt (Bath), M Dawson (Northampton); J Leonard (Harlequins), R Cockerill, D Garforth (both Leicester), G Archer (Newcastle), D Grewcock (Saracens), L Dallaglio (Wasps, capt), R Hill (Saracens), N Back (Leicester).
Replacements: P Grayson (Northampton), A Healey (Leicester) or K Bracken (Saracens), G Rowntree (Leicester), M Regan (Bath), C Sheasby (Wasps).
Match to be played at Twickenham on SaturdayReuse content