Just as Stuart Lancaster was thinking his way through the most challenging team selection of his short career as England head coach – should he commit to wholesale changes in his back row for Saturday's third and final meeting with South Africa while also tinkering with his tight unit and his combination out wide? – the Springbok hierarchy were crystal clear about the immediate way ahead.
Heyneke Meyer reacted to the injuries affecting the versatile Pat Lambie and the scarily powerful flanker Willem Alberts by recalling Gio Aplon at full-back and awarding a first cap to a local Eastern Cape product, Jacques Potgieter, at loose forward. He also promoted the centre Wynand Oliver from the bench to fill the very sizeable gap left by Frans Steyn, who has better things to do with his weekend than play rugby: namely, get married.
"I believe the Springbok shirt to be sacred and I don't like the idea of giving it away cheaply, so I'm very happy to maintain continuity," Meyer said when asked whether, with the three-Test series in the bag, he had considered performing major surgery on his starting formation. The coach also announced that Jean de Villiers, the 31-year-old centre from Paarl, would captain the side for the rest of the year, fitness willing.
"People don't realise that we've had only six training sessions together and that, in those circumstances, you need a special individual as leader," he said. "Jean has it in him to be one of the great Springbok captains. I had no need to wait longer before making this decision."
Meyer said England would feel the absence of their own captain, Chris Robshaw, who has a busted thumb.
"I believe England will develop into a very strong side – one of the top teams at the next World Cup – and among the things that impresses me is their resilience," he said. "Robshaw is one of the men most responsible for giving them that quality and they'll definitely miss him. He's shown himself to be a warrior."
With Phil Dowson, one of Lancaster's back-row choices at the start of the Six Nations, struggling for fitness, all the indications point to a return to international duty for James Haskell – he was not given a run off the bench in the 57-31 victory over the South African Barbarians in Potchefstroom two days ago – and a first start at No 8 for Thomas Waldrom of Leicester. Tom Palmer is expected to return at lock, with Danny Care at scrum-half.
A long-time admirer of Alex Goode's sophisticated talents as an attacking full-back, Lancaster could do much worse than to let him loose from the start. The Saracen may not be the quickest thing on two legs – in rugby terms, that title may soon belong to the Gloucester youngster Jonny May – but he would bring some craft and creativity to England's approach with ball in hand. Such a move would also allow another look at Ben Foden as a left wing, the position in which the Northampton player showed encouraging signs in Durban a little under a fortnight ago.Reuse content