- Midweek team primed for "old-fashioned" step into the unknown
- We need to get the momentum back and areally good win will allow that – Hardy
Assistant coach Simon Hardy says England will have to “live on their wits” this afternoon if the midweek side is to reinvigorate the tour of South Africa with a comprehensive win over the Southern Barbarians today in Kimberley (KO 2.00pm, Sky Sports HD). Live text commentary of the game will be available on RFU.com and the RFU iPhone app.
Hardy, who has worked in the national set-up in various guises since 1998, started by conceding that intelligence on the opposing invitational team, consisting of Currie Cup players, has been sparse and suggested that George Robson’s men would have their work cut out at the notoriously hostile GWK Park
“We know absolutely nothing. I can tell you their heights, their names, their ages and their weights, but that means diddly-squat,” he explained.
Photo: Getty Images
“This is an old-fashioned game where we will be concentrating on what we want to do and the players will have to react to what happens in front of them.
“In many respects it is very exciting because professional players spend all their time pre-preparing for games. In this instance, we are not able to do that. We will play what we see and live off our wits.
“Kimberley isn’t known for its hospitality towards touring teams, so I am looking forward to them showing the same disrespect to us as they do everyone else who goes there.”
Despite the uncompromising atmosphere – compounded by the fact that ground is at altitude, some 1230 metres above sea-level – Hardy appeared extremely confident in a group of players that have enjoyed exceptional seasons in the Aviva Premiership and, in James Haskell’s case, the Super 15.
“We’ve got a really exciting team and have planned for this in detail,” he continued. “If you look at the back row of [Carl] Fearns, [Thomas] Waldrom and Haskell, they are big men.
“[George] Robson is captain and lineout-caller and the front row has done exceptionally well in the Premiership. The backs have more pace than we know what to do with.
“Hopefully, we will put together a package which will take them on physically and allow the backs to win the game. The old adage ‘the forwards win the game, the backs decide the score’ certainly applies here.
Fresh from a successful Premiership campaign with Harlequins, Joe Gray starts at hooker for England and, having specialised in the position for the majority of his coaching career, Hardy had some special praise:
Photo: Getty Images
“Joe is an outstanding guy. When I first met him, he had just had reconstructive surgery on his knee so he spent his first 12 months throwing with me. Now he is one of the best in the Premiership at that.
“For the geeks around, he threw 94 per cent of his lineouts on-target [over the course of last season], which is world-class. He has come through and showing real signs of leadership and maturity.”
While Hardy evidently has the utmost faith in his charges, he did warn against complacency, ending by accentuating the importance of this afternoon’s clash in the wider context of the trip as a whole.
“Obviously the first team are very disappointed having lost [22-17 in Saturday’s first Test] and now we need to get the momentum back,” he said. “A really good win will allow the first team to catapult off that in their preparations for Saturday.
“The more you win, the more you get that good feeling on tour and the better everyone is.”