Having ridden a wave of support since taking charge as caretaker and then full time, the honeymoon period will be well and truly over on Saturday for Stuart Lancaster as he unleashes his young guns on South Africa in Durban for the first Test of the three match series. Let us know your thoughts on the team or predictions for Saturday either in the messages below or on Twitter @ballintouch
For all their hospitality off the pitch,South Africa will be far from welcoming on it. Any fresh faced men in white who pause to take in the moment, be it their first cap or trip to the Southern Hemisphere, will find themselves flattened by a tsunami of South African aggression. If you ain’t local, you’re in trouble.
Counting in England’s favour is that this is Heyneke Meyer’s first game in charge and there are also a few new faces in the South African side. Rather than starting again, though, Meyer still has nine players who played in South Africa’s last game at the World Cup 2011, and a few winners from 2007, just for good measure.
After the huge upheaval of selection last time he picked a squad,Lancaster has stayed loyal to a number of players from the finale of the Six Nations. The inclusion of prop Joe Marler and flanker Tom Johnson for their first caps have been the main headlines but the inclusion of Mike Brown at full back and Jonathan Joseph on the bench will also be intriguing selections.
Marler, Johnson and Brown have all profited from injuries to Corbisero, Croft and Strettle with Ben Foden having being shunted to the wing to accommodate the Harlequins man at the back. It’s a move that could bear fruit in the long term, the slightly underweight David Strettle being the most disposable of the first choice back three which also includes the seemingly re-invigorated, now non-splashing, Chris Ashton.
Foden edged the battle between himself and Brown in their league encounters this season and the league winner can count himself probably the most unfortunate player in terms of game time compared to what was his form deserved. Up against them will be Bulls full back Zane Kirchner, who earns his 15th cap for South Africa and has the now veteran Bryan Habana and ex-sevens specialist JP Pietersen for company out on the wings.
The centres will see the defensive rock of Barritt complimented by the occasionally undisciplined approach of Tuilagi. He has been warned and was a few degrees away from not being on the plane following his tip tackle on Danny Care. The experienced Jean de Villiers has been named Captain of South Africa for the series and will no doubt be keen to teach the Samoan/South African-English midfield a few lessons in centre play.
Danny Care has failed to make the match day squad and will instead have to earn his place through impressing in the mid-week side as Lancaster stays loyal to Dickson and Youngs, the Leicester man starting after having reminded everyone of his capabilities when he replaced Dickson against Ireland. Dickson, you may recall, was spinning in the rain and his withdrawal then was out of sympathy more than anything.
Owen Farrell starts again at fly half, his cool demeanor and accurate boot will be in high demand in what will be a tight affair if England manages to get themselves in a position to win any of these games going into the last quarter. Farrell didn’t look comfortable at 12 versus the Barbarians and should only be deployed there when there are no other options. The more creative Toby Flood will be chomping at the bit to take the 10 shirt back, now one of the elder statesmen of the kindergarten of English rugby. After missing the run in of the regular season he will have to hit the ground running.
Completing the host’s backline are the Steyn boys, Francois and Morne. Drop goal specialist Francois has recently decided to end his French affair after three years with Racing Metro and will ensure there will be some eye watering collisions against opposite man Barritt. Morne (unrelated by the way) will have Farrell to deal with, but presents his own threats. In the last World Cup he was the top individual points scorer.
Up front Marler has the fearsome Du Plessis brothers to contend with in the scrum, whilst Dan Cole must deal with The Beast. Thankfully for the 2nd row the uncapped pairing of Eben Elizabeth and Juandre Kruger (who Saints fans will recognise) presents an opportunity to push the South Africans and take them on at their own lineout game, something Geoff Parling will be keen to tackle.
The back row sees Johnson take on fellow debutant Marcell Coetzee, with Willem Alberts and the exceptional Pierre Spies offering Chris Robshaw and Ben Morgan their biggest (figuratively and literally) challenges yet. James Haskell arrived in camp too late to be involved this time around.
As with the Scotland vs. Australia match earlier this week, the weather could have a bearing on this game. Rain is forecast at the time of writing but the chances of it being as monsoon-like as the Scots enjoyed are low. With the first and third Tests at sea level, this game probably presents England’s best chance of victory on South African turf this summer. Victories against the Springboks are something of a rarity and those that have not heeded attack coach Mike Catt’s words about the intensity they can expect will surely crumble very quickly. Mike Catt offers that rare insight of having beaten South Africa in South Africa and his players should listen carefully.
Lancaster has built a side that surprised and developed every week during the Six Nations. Now with another couple of months’ preparation under their belts, one can only hope they can continue the trend and shock the South Africans while a few of them are still finding their feet. But still with such an untried side, victory could either come by the tightest margin or defeat by a wincingly large margin. The Six Nations gave a good indiaction of where they are as a team against local opposition but it is against the Southern Hemisphere sides that it will really matter come 2015. Which ever way it goes on Saturday, one thing is for sure. It’s going to hurt.
K.O. 4pm BST Saturday, Durban
15 Mike Brown (Harlequins)
14 Chris Ashton (Northampton Saints)
13 Manusamoa Tuilagi (Leicester Tigers)
12 Brad Barritt (Saracens)
11 Ben Foden (Northampton Saints)
10 Owen Farrell (Saracens)
9 Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers)
1 Joe Marler (Harlequins)
2 Dylan Hartley (Northampton Saints)
3 Dan Cole (LeicesterTigers)
4 Mouritz Botha (Saracens)
5 Geoff Parling (Leicester Tigers)
6 Tom Johnson (Exeter Chiefs)
7 Chris Robshaw (capt, Harlequins)
8 Ben Morgan (Scarlets)
16 Lee Mears (Bath Rugby)
17 Paul Doran Jones (Northampton Saints)
18 Tom Palmer (Stade Francais)
19 Phil Dowson (Northampton Saints)
20 Lee Dickson (Northampton Saints)
21 Toby Flood (Leicester Tigers)
22 Jonathan Joseph (London Irish)
South Africa team: Zane Kirchner, JP Pietersen, Jean de Villiers (c), Frans Steyn, Bryan Habana, Morne Steyn, Francois Hougaard, Tendai Mtawarira, Bismarck du Plessis, Jannie du Plessis, Eben Etzebeth, Juandre Kruger, Marcell Coetzee, Willem Alberts, Pierre Spies.
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