The imperative for a strong finish is obvious as England and South Africa meet at Twickenham on Saturday in the final round of the Autumn Nations Series with just two wins between them in their six matches so far – England beat Japan a fortnight ago, and South Africa knocked Italy over in Genoa last weekend.
The Springboks are world champions, as England hardly need reminding, having lost the final in Yokohama in 2019. “You never forget that moment,” Eddie Jones, the England head coach, said this week. “All the work you’ve done over a long period of time means nothing to you, at that period. There will always be something in the players who played in that game.”
On the flipside, South Africa have played at Twickenham three times since 2014 and lost the lot, with a line-out disaster in 2018 and a weird tendency to turn down kickable points last year among the contributing factors. Last week’s win over the Italians featured a notably high-tempo offloading game after narrow losses to the world’s top-ranked teams, Ireland and France.
“They [South Africa] played off 10 against France and maybe they were trying to play away from the ruck”, Jones said. “This period’s really interesting because sides are experimenting. You saw us running the ball out of our own 22 [in last week’s draw with New Zealand], that hasn’t been done before with an England side.”
Jones’s South African counterpart Jacques Nienaber has waved off six players unavailable outside the international window, with maybe Jasper Wiese the most prominent absentee, although Evan Roos, the twice-capped Stormers No 8, is also a hot prospect.
Nienaber is seeking respect for his wings – “Makazole Mapimpi scored in the World Cup final, and Kurt-Lee Arendse, he scored against France, he’s played six Test matches and scored six tries” – while the forward battle should be a treat, with Jones intriguingly using loosehead prop Ellis Genge from the bench.
On England, Nienaber said: “They are a team that don’t go away. Even the results that have gone against them – Australia [in the summer] and Argentina [in this series] – those games were close. A decision here or there, or an opportunity taken here or there would have changed the result.”
England’s midfield totem, Manu Tuilagi, will win his 50th cap – one diligent scribe worked out it might have been 143 without all the centre’s many injuries – opposite an experienced midfield duo of Damien de Allende and Jesse Kriel.
Jones said of Tuilagi: “We have been training him hard, and he wants to train hard. It’s not that he wasn’t diligent, but he’s much more deliberate about what’s good for his body and what’s not.
“There was a case, it might have been the last campaign, that on his day off he went and played golf, and for some reason the golf swing aggravated part of his back. He’s like that one-mile sprinter racehorse, his muscles are finely tuned, and if they are a little bit off, he can have problems.”
The same might be true for England if they fail to reproduce the intensity of the last 10 minutes against New Zealand.
How to watch England vs South Africa
England take on South Africa at Twickenham at 5.30pm on Saturday 26 November 2022 in the Autumn Nations Series.
You can watch the game live on Amazon Prime Video. Subscriptions cost £8.99 a month or £95 for a year. Coverage starts at 4.30pm.