It wasn’t until this set of internationals rolled around that it came to my attention that it is nearly ten years to the day that England last best South Africa, and this resonates pretty strongly for me as I scored the winning try in that game. Hardly known for my try scoring prowess… that one was for me, the greatest try ever scored. It might have only required the length of my forearm to get the ball there, but that seems like about six miles when you are burrowing through the Springbok defence.
Ten years is a long time, in that time frame we’ve even managed to chalk up a win against the All Blacks, a series whitewash against the Aussies, numerous wins over all the other northern hemisphere countries, but the Springboks? Not a thing. So could you assume that South Africa are our bogey team? I guess so, but there is no real rhyme or reason to this run of bad form against a side that we should have had the chance to put to bed on more than once occasion in the last ten years. If there was ever an opportunity to put this miserable streak behind us though it is now, South Africa seem to be in complete disarray as a rugby nation at present, and this doesn’t just reflect on the first XV at international level, there seems to be problems from the grass roots of the game and they are truly not finding their stride in terms of player progression. Managing to clinch a draw against the Baa Baa’s was probably a testament to some grit being displayed over outright playing ability as, although this was a high scoring affair for a draw, there was lacking in both sides on the day.
On the flipside of all this you have what appears to be one of the best England teams to have been screwed together since 2003. Whether or not it is the “Eddie effect” or just good timing, you have to say that there has been a ‘step change’ in the sides playing ability over the last 12 months. They are playing as a unit, and making the little differences count. There were times in that series whitewash down under when we were on the ropes, you could see that one slip of the mind, one second with your eye off the ball could have spelled disaster, but when the defence has come under scrutiny, it has stood up, when the opportunity has presented itself it has been taken and when the presence of mind to make game winning decisions has been required it has been there. I am looking forward to seeing what England can do this weekend, and will be bitterly disappointed if they don’t make a pretty good fist of this one. South Africa are going to come out swinging, they have to, but this current England side is scared of nothing.
Looking back on last week and away from the internationals, I was very pleased (very) to see that Gloucester put the anchors on Saracens in the Anglo-Welsh. In isolation it doesn’t mean that much, but it does show the Sarries are not completely infallible and does also show that Gloucester have got the opportunity to get themselves going into the second half of the season. If that hasn’t provided some sort of confidence to the players and coaching staff then I don’t know what will. They have the ability to play top level rugby and fight out in the top 4 but they just need the ability to maintain week in, week out and for a full 80 minutes on the pitch.
Back on the international scene I am going to be interested to see how Wales go against Argentina, as they are going to be smarting from last weekend’s drubbing against Australia and will want to make good on that pretty darn quickly. As we all know though, Argentina are a threat and although they sit a few places below the Welsh in the world rankings, I don’t think that this will mean a jot to them come kick-off as they will be looking to push on from the confidence boosting victory over Japan, and make a big noise in these internationals.
Ireland would be forgiven for thinking that they probably have an easy task ahead of them this week, but I would imagine their foot will be firmly planted on the accelerator after last week and they will look to run riot over Canada. Never say never though.
If for some reason New Zealand manage to fall foul of the Italians this weekend, then you can fully expect the Kiwi media to go into meltdown, enquiries will be held and names will be taken, but let’s be honest there is absolutely no risk of that happening whatsoever, is there?
Scotland Australia will be a good game to get into and although I fear that the Wallabies are going to be looking to continue these internationals in the way they started, there is no doubting that the Scots have come a million miles in the last couple of tournaments and their defence is the one piece of their game that could put the anchors on the fast flowing style of the Aussies. With any luck they will make the most of any opportunities that present themselves and we could be in for a good game!
Looking forward to a weekend of rugby and I am sincerely hoping that my shirt hanging in the office does not continue to be the reminder of the last time that England beat South Africa!