England aim to silence critics against Boks
England have a point to prove on Saturday when it takes on World Cup holder South Africa at Twickenham after the Southern hemisphere opponents it so hoped to beat this month all commented on its seeming lack of progress.
Australia’s coach and players had already said they were not surprised to have won the forward battle in last week’s 28-14 win over England when New Zealand captain Richie McCaw this week identified Wales as his team’s toughest opponent in Europe and former South Africa coach Jake White said England was not as strong as at last year’s World Cup.
The All Blacks are at Wales on Saturday, when Australia is at France and England hosts South Africa, so the accuracy of the latter claims could soon be verified.
But England team manager Martin Johnson identified the reasons for the error-strewn capitulation to Australia as a lack of confidence and awareness, with the fact that he has made just one change suggesting he is confident of a strong response.
Australia combated their traditional inferiority to England up front by frustrating its opponents and slowing down play, most evidently in the continual collapsing of scrums against them. That at least should be something Johnson does not have to worry about on Saturday.
“Last week every scrummage seemed to end up on the floor,” Johnson said. “I think it will be a different game this time. We’ll have a contest at the scrum.”
Johnson brought in James Haskell for Tom Croft at blindside flanker in an effort to gain more power and leverage against one of the strongest scrummaging nations. By naming an unchanged backline, he backed up his post-match words last weekend that his players were lacking in confidence and adventure rather than skill or effort.
“We want to get some consistency into this team, and where the mistakes we made we want to spend this week trying to correct them,” said Johnson, who has now picked the same backline for the third game in a row.
England gave away sloppy penalties against Australia and was punished by the accurate boot of Matt Giteau. It could find a less ruthless opponent in South Africa, which has laboured to beat Wales and Scotland.
Embattled coach Peter de Villiers, who has said his players cannot wait to get home after a long season in which they went from World Cup winners to last in the Tri-Nations, delayed naming his team two days until Thursday in hope that his injured and tired players can recover.
De Villiers’ refusal to use Europe-based players as cover has been questioned, with Butch James playing at Bath and prop Jannie du Plessis having been flown in when CJ van der Linde is at Leinster.
New Zealand plays England next weekend for the final match of its tour, but expects to be battered and bruised by then after a match at Millennium Stadium. Six Nations champion Wales has picked the same lineup which only lost 20-15 to South Africa on November 8 and McCaw is expecting a rough ride.
“Wales will pose the biggest challenge to us physically and, if their front five performs, they have the ability behind to run amok,” McCaw said. “The likes of Shane Williams and Lee Byrne are dangerous when given space. If you get things wrong against them, you are in for a long day.”
With wins over Scotland and Ireland so far without conceding a try, New Zealand would complete the third leg of a Grand Slam of the Home Unions.
“We haven’t talked about it,” coach Graham Henry said. “If things happen because we play decent rugby, then that is a bonus.”
Having seen Australia frustrate and ultimately overcome England, France coach Marc Lievremont has recalled lock Sebastien Chabal in one of just two changes to the team that beat the Pacific Islanders 42-17.
Sebastien Tillous-Borde comes in at scrumhalf for Jean-Baptiste Elissalde, but that was enforced after Elissalde was carried from the field with a head injury.
“They are very strong, very solid and very brave,” Lievremont said.
“They don’t have many weaknesses and don’t give points away. They are very hard to move around.”
Although the Wallabies performed well against England, coach Robbie Deans shook up his pack to bring in Wycliff Palu, Dean Mumm and Ben Alexander.
“Ben Alexander showed against Italy, and earlier in the year during the Tests against France back in Australia, that he was capable in this company,” Deans said Tuesday. “Saturday night gives him another opportunity, while allowing Benn Robinson to freshen up for the remaining games of the tour.”
Scotland, beaten 14-10 by South Africa last weekend after leading 10-0 at halftime, should still beat lowly Canada on Saturday despite the absence of the injured Chris Paterson, Thom Evans and Jason White.
Also on Saturday, Italy hosts the Pacific Islanders and Ireland takes on an Argentina side that has risen to fourth in the world rankings. But the Irish will have to cope without flanker Alan Quinlan, who has been suspended for three weeks for stamping on number eight Rodney So’oialo in last weekend’s frustrating 22-3 loss to New Zealand. - Sapa-AP