- England expect the gain line battle to be crucial vs South Africa
- “We need to put them down early,” Ben Morgan
The consensus in the England camp, backed up by recent observations of the Springboks, is that if you can win the gain line battle against South Africa, you are in with a chance of defeating them. But cede the crucial momentum to their hard running, ball carrying pack and you are likely to suffer a battering on the scoreboard and to the ego.
England have not beaten South Africa in the last ten meetings, a run stretching back to the host's 23-21 victory at Twickenham in 2006, and if they are to win the third QBE International on Saturday, matching the visitors’ physicality is a prerequisite.
With a grin befitting of someone who loves the rough stuff, Owen Farrell said: “They’re a big bunch of lads, they’ve got some big ball carriers and it is all about that gain line battle this weekend.”
Gloucester No.8 Ben Morgan, recalled to the starting line-up after missing the last three games, is focussed on getting stuck into the Boks behind their gain line, saying: “We need to put them down early, take their momentum away, and then we can get on top of them.”
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Backs Coach Andy Farrell, not the type to a shirk a tackle during his glittering League and Union career, runs England’s defence and believes the secret to countering physical challenges is to remember that no one player can dominate on their own.
“People don’t win the physical battle in a 15-man game on their own, it is a collective and we’ve got to make sure that’s across the board,” said the 38-year-old.
England’s 14-14 draw in Port Elizabeth – which halted the nine game losing streak – is seen as a seminal moment for this young England team, when Stuart Lancaster’s side proved, most pertinently to themselves, that they can compete against the best.
Morgan believes England gathered valuable momentum through the tour and must go into game with confidence, given it is at home. “Obviously the tour was disappointing score wise but in each Test we improved and we’re ready to take South Africa on, especially as they’re coming to our home patch,” he said.
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Loosehead Alex Corbisiero is one of six changes from the Australia defeat last week and makes his first appearance since coming as a second-half replacement in the second Test in Johannesburg. The Springboks blitzed England with three tries in the opening 15 minutes that evening and Corbisiero feels the psychological edge is established early on in games, making it essential England perform from the first minute.
“We need to start well, get a good platform set-piece wise and start to build a score. We showed in the summer that we can play well against them but we did it in patches and let ourselves down in 20 minute spells. If we can get it right for 80 minutes I think we’ve got a very good chance.”
The stated aim at the outset of the autumn was, as Farrell Senior says, “to take as many scalps as we possibly can” and after the Wallabies’ 20-14 win last week, there is one less chance to defeat a southern hemisphere giant.
Farrell Junior said: “After last week this game becomes more and more important, we want to prove ourselves to be one of the best teams in the world and to do that we’ve got to beat the best.”
In the final pre-game press conference, Forwards Coach Graham Rowntree was still visibly hurt by the Australia defeat and said that sense of frustration will drive England to meet the Springbok challenge head-on. Literally.