Rassie Erasmus predicts entire England team for World Cup semi-final as mind games begin

South Africa director of rugby believes England will make changes from their quarter-final win against Fiji as he soaked up the media spotlight ahead of Saturday’s Rugby World Cup semi-final

Harry Latham-Coyle
in Paris
Wednesday 18 October 2023 09:46 BST
Rassie Erasmus was in a playful mood with the media on Tuesday
Rassie Erasmus was in a playful mood with the media on Tuesday (AFP via Getty Images)

Rassie Erasmus, South Africa’s director of rugby, has predicted the entire England team for Saturday’s Rugby World Cup semi-final as the mind games continue ahead of a rematch of the 2019 tournament final.

Erasmus was speaking to the media for a second consecutive day at the start of semi-final week at a press conference in Presles, 30 kilometres north of Paris.

Neither side is due to name their squad for the last four encounter until Thursday, but the former Springboks head coach arrived with a provisional fifteen he thought Steve Borthwick would be considering on a bit of paper.

And when asked if he would read it out, Erasmus obliged, proceeding to name virtually a full matchday 23, with only a replacement hooker omitted.

“[Ellis] Genge, [Jamie] George, [Kyle] Sinckler,” Erasmus began. “[Maro] Itoje, [Ollie] Chessum; [Courtney] Lawes, [Tom] Curry, [Ben] Earl.

“[Alex] Mitchell, [Owen] Farrell;[Elliot] Daly, [Manu] Tuilagi, [Joe] Marchant, [Jonny] May; Marcus Smith or [Freddie] Steward.”

And then the bench: “[Joe] Marler, [Dan] Cole, George [Martin] , Billy [Vunipola] , Ben Youngs or Danny [Care], George Ford, and Ollie [Lawrence].”

Erasmus’s proposed starting side includes one or two changes to the England team that beat Fiji in the quarter-final, with Kyle Sinckler promoted to start at tighthead prop and a decision to be made over Marcus Smith or Freddie Steward at full-back.

The gambit is unlikely to draw a response from Borthwick, a more reserved character who does not tend to play games with the press.

At this point four years ago with England preparing for a semi-final against the All Blacks, then-head coach Eddie Jones went on the offensive, speaking to the press earlier in the week than usual and suggesting that someone had been spying on England’s training.

There were no such allegations at England’s training session at the French National Institute of Sport, Expertise, and Performance on the outskirts of Paris this week, with defence coach Kevin Sinfield talking up their opponents and suggesting that the defending champions did not have a clear weakness.

England lost the 2019 World Cup final to South Africa
England lost the 2019 World Cup final to South Africa (Getty Images)

Erasmus, meanwhile, believes that England will have “beef” with the Springboks given that final defeat in Yokohama four years ago, and the 27-13 loss at Twickenham last November which brought an end to Jones’s time in charge.

“I think because they played us end of year last year, and they played us at the Rugby World Cup final, I think they’ll have some beef with us,” explained Erasmus. “It’s something that will always hurt, when you lose the World Cup.

“When I was a player we lost the World Cup against Australia, and for the next couple of games we played against Australia we were always thinking, ‘It was you guys who took it away from us.’ England will feel like that, too. ‘You guys took it away from us and we would like to take it back.’

“I’m not saying it in a negative way, I feel that’s how professional sport is. You want to rectify problems, you want to make your country proud, you want to make your people proud, you want to make your team proud. I think that the English team will have to be like that. They will really fight to the end.”

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