England pack ready to right sorry record

Tourists know set-pieces will be key to recording first win in eight games against South Africa

Durban

If England have grown just a little tired of hearing how they have all the advantages ahead of this afternoon's opening Test with the Springboks at Kings Park – more rest, more preparation time, more cohesion – they find their recent record against the two-time world champions much harder to bear. Seven straight defeats stretching back to the autumn of 2006, including four complete and utter humiliations, does not make for happy reading. There are more laughs in a Thomas Hardy novel.

True, there has been the occasional self-deprecating wisecrack in the darkness: "You know you've had a shit game when your wife and mum send you text messages saying they still love you," said the West Country prop Phil Vickery after being scrummaged clean out of this self-same stadium while on Lions duty three years ago. But generally speaking, the prevailing sound from Englishmen tangling with the South Africans has been one of wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Should Stuart Lancaster's tourists fail to make sense of their set-pieces today, they will find themselves wailing and gnashing some more. The good news is that a new-look England front row, featuring the bristlingly aggressive debutant prop Joe Marler alongside a fresh Dylan Hartley and an increasingly authoritative Dan Cole, have a better than even chance of edging the scrums against a Springbok unit who regard mere parity as an affront to their masculinity. Any victory over the South Africans necessarily begins here.

"The scrum is still a massive part of international rugby and we're really looking forward to this contest," said the England forwards coach Graham Rowntree, who can take a serious amount of credit for rebuilding the red-rose reputation in this area. If England's grunt-and-groaners are individually powerful, they are also highly organised and unusually disciplined. Rowntree assumes that penalties will be awarded at the set-piece over the course of a fast and furious Test and has made it his business to ensure they are conceded by the other lot.

By the same yardstick, the Boks suspect they will edge the line-outs, on the basis that their quartet of jumping forwards, led by the athletic young newcomers Eben Etzebeth and Marcell Coetzee, offer more variety than an England pack shorn of the accomplished aerialist Tom Croft, back home in Leicester nursing a bad neck. When all is said and done, the specialist forward operations may end up in stalemate.

So too might the bish-bash confrontation in midfield – if Jean de Villiers and Frans Steyn enjoy a tackle, so too do Brad Barritt and Manu Tuilagi – and the twinkletoed match-up in the wide open acres, although the Springbok master Bryan Habana looked in strikingly good shape in scoring the winning try for the Stormers against the Bulls in Pretoria last weekend. Which leaves us with the breakdown and the kicking game, both of which have gone the South Africans' way for as long as anyone cares to remember.

Chris Robshaw, the England captain who has spent the entire season in a purple patch, has the ability to take advantage of Heinrich Brüssow's absence. The new Springbok coach, Heyneke Meyer, may have missed a trick in rejecting the high-class breakaway's qualities and will need Morne Steyn and his namesake Frans to dominate proceedings with the boot.

This is where England must fear the Boks, for both Steyns can smack it miles: out of hand, off the tee, in the drop. It will be no great surprise if South Africa win for precisely this reason, but for the first time in many moons, the tourists think they can prevail here. It is required viewing.

News
Richard Dawkins dedicated his book 'The Greatest Show on Earth' to Josh Timonen
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
food + drink
Life and Style
fashionLidl to launch a new affordable fashion range
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment