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Monstrous Bok Pack to Ease Pressure on Inexperienced Backs


Cape Town – The heightened sense of anticipation around the Springbok pack ahead of Saturday’s clash against an injury-stricken England at Twickenham is understandable.

With a dynamic, new-look loose trio and a second row that is unrivalled in world rugby, the Boks will be backing themselves to win the battle up front and lay the foundation for what would be a sixth win out of seven in England.

All of the boxes just seem to be ticked in this Bok pack.

There are four players who have captained South Africa – Siya Kolisi, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Warren Whiteley and Eben Etzebeth – while the return of Duane Vermeulenfurther bolsters the leadership.

There are numerous lineout options with Malcolm Marx considered one of the best hookers in the world, while Steven Kitshoff has had a stellar year in green and gold and with Frans Malherbe should be more than stable in the front row.

The defensive capabilities of every player in the pack – none more so than Du Toit – should be daunting for any opposition, while the ball carrying options are equally intimidating.

The Boks are also well-stocked to challenge for the ball on the ground with Marx and Vermeulen, both monstrous in that department, starting a Test match together for the first time.

With Kitshoff, Etzebeth and Du Toit also competing, England will have their hands full in protecting their own ball at every turn.

The hosts, of course, will kick a lot and that means that 20-year-old fullback Damian Willemse could have a potentially testing evening at fullback in his first Bok start.

Scrumhalf Ivan van Zyl, meanwhile, is starting just his second Test.

There is also inexperience out on the two wings where, despite his success in 2018, Aphiwe Dyantyi plays Test rugby in Europe for the first time while S’bu Nkosi is back from injury.

With the Boks boasting so much firepower up front, there is no doubt that England will look at the back three as an area of potential South African weakness.

Owen Farrell is back at flyhalf and is as accurate as anyone kicking from hand, so expect Willemse to have to get up for a few bombs early on in the contest.

In Whiteley, though, the Boks have a No 8 who is quick enough to drop back and get into space where he can give Willemse an option in recovering England kicks.

Whiteley will also link up out wide on attack, allowing Vermeulen to focus on the contact areas where the Boks will be hedging a lot of their bets.

Van Zyl, in easily the biggest match of his career, couldn’t have asked for much more. He will also be expected to kick a lot, but with the human shields that he has protecting him, he is likely to have that split second extra to get his accuracy right.

Van Zyl’s selection says a lot about the way that Erasmus is approaching this game. In Embrose Papier, he has a scrumhalf who is not unlike the absent Faf de Klerk.

English conditions, though, have persuaded Erasmus to go for a more mechanical option at halfback, suggesting that box kicking and keeping it close will be the order of the day.

And, with a pack like that, why wouldn’t Erasmus want to keep it close?

If the opportunities arise, the Boks certainly have the pace and skill to use their backs to dangerous effect, but those decisions will only be taken after the forwards have sucked in numbers.

It is one of rugby’s oldest clichés that ‘matches are won up front’ and, on paper at least, the Springboks seem well positioned in that battle.

Kick-off on Saturday is at 17:00 (SA time).

Teams:

England

15 Elliot Daly, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Ben Te’o, 11 Jonny May, 10 Owen Farrell (co-captain), 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Mark Wilson, 7 Tom Curry, 6 Brad Shields, 5 George Kruis, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Dylan Hartley (co-captain), 1 Alec Hepburn

Substitutes: 16 Jamie George, 17 Ben Moon, 18 Harry Williams, 19 Charlie Ewels, 20 Zach Mercer, 21 Danny Care, 22 George Ford, 23 Manu Tuilagi

South Africa

15 Damian Willemse, 14 S’bu Nkosi, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Ivan van Zyl, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Duane Vermeulen, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Steven Kitshoff

Substitutes: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Thomas du Toit, 18 Wilco Louw, 19 RG Snyman, 20 Lood de Jager, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 André Esterhuizen

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