Lewis Moody: My heart says England but my head says the Springboks
Moody views: South Africa largely stick to what they know: they carry the ballhard,they test your willand soul in defence
Saturday 09 June 2012
Rugby is a religion in South Africa. You walk down the street in any town and there are flags and shirts in the windows, be it the dentist or the butchers. It is the national sport and the people get very passionate about it. The pressure on the players to perform is huge and that is one of the reasons why it is such a difficult place for tourists to play.
South Africa's new coach Heyneke Meyer coached me at Leicester for a short time. Unfortunately he had to leave for family reasons but not before giving me an insight into how they operate. They are very reliant on patterns. The pitch was broken down into three sections: the exit area between the try line and your own 22, the attacking zone between the 22s, and the red zone between the opposition 22 and the try line. Each zone had its own patterns that he religiously battered into you, hours and hours on the training field going over the routines.
You always know what you are going to get but that does not make it any easier to deal with. Though they have great broken-field runners like Bryan Habana and J B Pietersen, they largely stick to what they know and do it very well. They carry the ball hard, they test your will, your soul in defence to see if you have the mettle to stand up to them. They breed their rugby players very big in South Africa; Bakkies Botha, Os du Randt and Victor Matfield are just three examples I recall from personal experience, huge arms, huge chests, huge everything.
Yes, they are only human. You tackle them hard, they fall over. But they do create huge specimens and the physical side of the game is such a big part of their identity. Personally I loved playing against them, though I only managed it once on South African soil. You came off the field having been tested completely, physically and mentally, in every department. If you had won you knew that you had earned it. Of course that was the case against Australia and New Zealand, too, but those challenges manifested themselves in different ways.
Australia were well drilled in the front five but relied very heavily on a very skilful, very elusive back line. New Zealand have a general, all-round game. They have physical forwards and cover the basics well at the scrum, the lineout, ruck and maul. They have big scavengers like Richie McCaw and talented backs. South Africa are more forward-oriented with a relentless, bash-bash style of rugby with high balls and long kicks.
From that point of view Owen Farrell can expect a lot of attention. They will target the new caps, wanting to get into Joe Marler and Tom Johnson early to see if there is any mental weaknesses. Knowing Meyer as I do I know he will have done his homework on the new boys. They will know Marler has a bit of a temper on him. If he gets fired into he might react. They want to rile you, to antagonise you into a negative reaction. I don't doubt the boys will come through it but it will be a ferocious test.
In the past the northern hemisphere sides took weakened teams on the summer tours either because of injury or because clubs wanted to rest their key players prior to the start of a new season. That tide has turned now. Martin Johnson introduced midweek fixtures in 2010 with England down in Australia. For that you needed big squads. There was also the realisation that a win in these matches gives you a huge confidence boost and momentum swings that you can take with you.
Just look at what Scotland did against Australia. What a win that was. I remember when we won in Australia before the 2003 World Cup. We took massive confidence from beating a quality side away from home. For this En gland team, especially being as young as it is, to show how good they are they really need to win away from home.
Injury to David Strettle has forced a change to the back three. I'm not an authority on that unit but I was slightly surprised to see Ben Foden moved to the wing for the first time to accommodate Mike Brown. He won't get as much ball but he is a determined, strong man and whoever he comes up against he is going to make life difficult. More of a worry, if that is the right word, is how Brown will cope in this environment, knowing South Africa's penchant for the high ball. He has a feisty temperament and has been known to lose his head every now and again. I thought Ugo Monye might be given an opportunity. He had a phenomenal Premiership final. But these are the decisions an international coach has to make and, to be fair, Brown has had an outstanding two seasons.
I'm sure all the players will relish the challenge. They will understand a lot more about themselves when they step out in Durban. In my heart, England win. With the Boks playing two uncapped guys in the second row there is a possibility they could disrupt them and get home by five points. South Africa have not had a tough match for a couple of months so if England are going to do it, this is the match. On the other hand they are up against a team boasting 458 caps so my head says South Africa by seven.
Maintaining momentum is Lancaster's big challenge
In his first campaign, Stuart Lancaster set himself very high standards. He introduced some fresh faces, which really excited everyone. To have that injection of enthusiasm was just what was needed.
When Ben Foden, Ben Youngs, Chris Ashton, Manu Tuilagi and the like came through it gave me a real buzz and you feed off that energy. I have enjoyed what Stuart and the coaches have created. They have developed an environment in which young players can thrive. The challenge now is keeping that going over the next few years.
We all want great success for England, but in any cycle for any team there are ups and downs. And it is how you deal with them that will determine how far this team goes. I have never been coached by Stuart, but I was pleased that the RFU went with an English coach. In an international set-up I feel that the team fully benefits when the coach understands and has experienced the country's culture, lifestyle and language.
Stuart has shown that you don't have to be a big name, you just have to be the right person. He is hungry and has thrown everything at it. The next couple of seasons will be interesting to see if he can keep the momentum going.
I don't miss Botha's boot
I have found commentating on the big games quite tough. You see the euphoria on the faces of the winners. You remember what goes into it, the highs and lows, the successes.
Having said that I know that my body is much more appreciative of the match-day experience as a pundit, in comparison to being cleared out of a ruck by the likes of Bakkies Botha.
The toughest opponent I faced, Botha would come steaming in to clear the ruck and wind me with his knee, head, shoulder, anything really.
He nailed me once in a ruck at Twickenham. I remember jumping up and getting right in his face.
He was slightly taken aback, all 6ft 7in and 25st of him. There was a mo ment of mutual respect when this skinny lad dared to stand up to him, but I could see he was surprised.
Lewis Moody is a Tag Heuer ambassador, Tag Heuer are the official watch of England Rugby
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