In tomorrow’s match with South Africa, England have their hardest test. Why? Because they know exactly what they’ll be coming up against.
The Springboks don’t often play exciting rugby – it’s simple, boring rugby. They try to bully you, outmuscle you and, when in doubt, send the ball skyward and harass the catcher.
It’s not pretty, but if they win their 2021 will have included victory over the Lions, a semi-successful Rugby Championship and an unbeaten European tour. Not to be sniffed at.
That said, the England team looks a lot more balanced this week. They’re potentially vulnerable up front against the physical Boks but the backline looks stable.
With Marcus Smith at No10 inside Manu Tuilagi and Henry Slade, England have the choice of carting it up or playing it through the hands. Having those options could be a dream situation for Smith.
With Joe Marler having barely trained due to Covid-19, he is on the bench and Sale Sharks youngster Bevan Rodd starts.
The Boks will go after this England pack and are dogged and savvy at the breakdown. Captain Courtney Lawes will need to lead from the front if England are to compete.
Lawes has been galvanised by the captaincy. He looked to really turn the screw against Tonga and deserves a chance to skipper against the Boks after a brilliant Lions tour.
Regarding the Lions, South Africa director of rugby Rassie Erasmus was banned from all rugby for two months following his rantings and ravings against officials in the summer.
Erasmus also cannot feature on matchday for the Boks until September next year – quite a lengthy ban.
In reality, though, it doesn’t matter anymore.
World Rugby haven’t done themselves any favours in all of this. They should have handed out the ban during the Lions tour.
We want coaches to clash and have personalities but we don’t want manipulators.
Eddie Jones is very good with his camera time. He says something outlandish or riles someone but never does he go after someone’s reputation with intent to cause damage, like Erasmus did.
It left a bad taste in the mouth, and three months on it matters little. He will only miss this Test match, a summer series next year [due to be against Wales] and the Rugby Championship’s opening rounds. It’s hardly like he’s missing the World Cup.
Speaking of those unafraid to speak their mind, Steve Diamond has finally found a club after a year away from the sport.
With the type of team Worcester Warriors are and the direction, or lack of, they’ve been heading, Diamond could be just what they need: a proper turnaround coach, even if his official title is lead rugby consultant.
Bath have missed out, simple as. God knows where they are right now but they’re living off memories and reputation. A marmite figure like Diamond could have been their answer, instead they’ve stuck with Stuart Hooper – for now, at least.
And I cannot finish without mentioning Ireland’s sensational win over the All Blacks last weekend. The moment ‘Fields of Athenry’ drowned out the haka there was that feeling something could happen.
That said, and their result aside, Ireland need to take a serious look at their fly-half options. Joey Carbery is good but never great, Johnny Sexton was great but is now mostly good, and their other options of Jack Carty and Billy Burns don’t cut the mustard.
The Irish peaked against the All Blacks before the last World Cup. Let’s hope they haven’t done it again.