Why the Boks need a win
THERE is little doubt that Springbok rugby is undergoing a revolution and tomorrow, in what is a dead rubber third test against England, the winds of change will continue to blow.
The wonderful Nelson Mandela Bay stadium in Port Elizabeth will play host to a match that, on the surface, has little more than bragging rights, but in reality is as important as any in this series.
Nine months ago, if a Bok team sheet had been publicly presented and in jerseys four to seven the names were Eben Etzebeth, Juandre Kruger, Marcell Coetzee and Jacques Potgieter, the coach would have been laughed out of town. But those four names are on tomorrow's team sheet, an indication of exactly how rapidly coach Heyneke Meyer's revolution is evolving.
A 10th straight win against England is on the cards, but England won't go down without a fight because, for their coach, Stuart Lancaster, a victory over a southern hemisphere giant will be a big block in his rebuilding process.
Meyer knows that, with only 35 more tests before the 2015 World Cup, every outing is a vital opportunity to grow and develop the squad and game plan, because in the greater scheme of things, 35 matches is not a long time to build a squad into world-beaters.
It took Meyer five years and more than 70 games before the Bulls won Super rugby; he has half that time to turn the Boks into world champions again, which is why tomorrow won't be about going through the motions. It will be about winning, giving promising players another nugget of confidence as they move forward in their test careers. It will also be about giving the squad more belief in their approach.
So expect more of the same, but with better execution. The set piece, especially the lineout, will continue to function as a primary weapon, while the scrums will be nothing more than restarts, which has been the trend in this series.
The scrum is such a lottery that the coaches accept they will concede penalties and free kicks because of the vagaries of the laws, so, to use a coaching cliché, they will attempt to control the controllables. Which means an emphasis on protecting the ball at the breakdown, securing the lineout, making first-time tackles count, maintaining structure on defence and executing the kick and chase accurately.
New cap Potgieter has a vital role to play, because he will have to provide the same go-forward ball that Willem Alberts gave the Boks in the first two tests.
Alberts's marauding runs were arguably the single biggest difference between the teams.
Alongside him, Coetzee needs to continue his ability to take the ball over the advantage line when needed, and also to make the big tackles that have marked his arrival in test rugby. The backline has purred nicely, thanks to front-foot ball from the forwards and there is no reason they won't receive quality possession this weekend as well. More of the same from Jean de Villiers and company will do nicely.
England have made six changes and added the abrasiveness of Thomas Waldrom at No 8 and the physicality of James Haskell at flank.
Danny Care's return at scrumhalf has been lauded in Britain and while he has talent and skill, it will come down to how well his big men protect him in the skirmishes around the fringes of rucks and mauls and how much quick ball they can provide for the halfback to exhibit his wares.
Last week England were on the ropes and fought back as the Springboks lost their shape due to a raft of injuries. The home team will be better for that experience and if they continue to improve at the same rate we've already seen in this series, England will be in for a tough evening.
South Africa: Gio Aplon, JP Pietersen, Jean de Villiers (capt), Wynand Olivier, Bryan Habana, Morné Steyn, Francois Hougaard, Pierre Spies, Jacques Potgieter, Marcell Coetzee, Juandré Kruger, Eben Etzebeth, Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck du Plessis (vice-capt), Tendai Mtawarira. Replacements: Adriaan Strauss, Werner Kruger, Flip van der Merwe, Ryan Kankowski, Ruan Pienaar, Elton Jantjies, Bjorn Basson.
England: Alex Goode, Chris Ashton, Jonathan Joseph, Manu Tuilagi, Ben Foden, Toby Flood, Danny Care, Alex Corbisiero, Dylan Hartley (capt), Dan Cole, Tom Palmer, Geoff Parling, Tom Johnson, James Haskell, Thomas Waldrom. Replacements: Lee Mears, Joe Marler, Mouritz Botha, Phil Dowson, Lee Dickson, Owen Farrell, Brad Barritt.
Kick-off: 5.05pm Saturday.
Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia)
For TV times, see Page 22