LONDON – South Africa’s formidable forwards can lay the platform to topple England in their opening match of the November international series at Twickenham on Saturday, captain Siya Kolisi believes.
The Springboks selected an experienced and muscular pack, arguably their first-choice selection, and a backline with plenty of flair but one that is light on experience.
Outside backs Damian Willemse, Sbu Nkosi and Aphiwe Dyantyi, and scrumhalf Ivan van Zyl, have only 18 caps between them, and for all their exciting talent it will be an area for England to exploit with high balls and tactical kicking.
But up front the Boks look to have the edge, in both experience and size, with colossus Duane Vermeulen’s return to the side in the number seven jersey allowing the versatile Pieter-Steph du Toit to resume his lock pairing with the gritty Eben Etzebeth.
Warren Whiteley is at number eight and Kolisi on the other flank in what is likely the back row trio that will start at the World Cup in Japan next year.
“We’re looking for a hard battle up-front‚” Kolisi told reporters on Friday, clearly relishing the challenge against an injury-ravaged and vastly less experienced England pack.
“England are a disciplined side and they believe in their system and processes. It has worked well for them and I expect nothing less on Saturday.
“We saw in the series back home that they know how to control the game and we are expecting a very good tactical game from them. We can expect a hard set-piece battle.”
But he adds that size, strength and experience alone is not enough, and one of the key improvements in the Bok side this season after a torrid couple of years has been to work harder without the ball.
“We don’t look at talent and what you can do. (It’s about) how much you can do for the team — the stuff you don’t need talent for‚ the stuff people don’t see. We measure that‚ and it’s getting better and better every week.”
Kolisi is confident that the young backline can fire and that fullback Willemse in particular will handle the pressure in what is his first test start and his fourth cap overall.
“He’s young but he’s very confident‚” Kolisi said. “I don’t really worry about him because he’s very mature — the way he looks at (video) clips and studies the game‚ and he also watches himself at training‚ that gives me so much confidence in him.”
The Boks beat England 2-1 in their home series in June.
After Saturday they take on France, Scotland and Wales on consecutive weekends in what is likely their last chance to play European opposition ahead of the World Cup.
(Reporting By Nick Said; editing by Martyn Herman)