England v South Africa
Battle of the halves pivotal to Twickenham result
Tom Hamilton
November 14, 2014
England were unable to start their November Test campaign on a winning note © Getty Images
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Team News

  • Stuart Lancaster has made one injury-enforced change to the England side that last to New Zealand, with Anthony Watson replacing Bath team-mate on the right wing. Tom Wood was an injury doubt but he retains his place at blindside while Marland Yarde is added to the bench to cover the back three. Dylan Hartley and Courtney Lawes suffered concussions against but both have completed the graduated return to play protocol and start in the pack. At half-back, Danny Care wins his 50th cap.
  • South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer selected Pat Lambie at fly-half in place of Handre Pollard, one of five changes to the Springboks side beaten in Ireland. All five changes to the line-up are straight swaps between the starting XV and the replacements in Dublin. Cornal Hendricks, Teboho Mohoje, Bismarck du Plessis, Francois Hougaard join Pollard in dropping to the bench. World Cup winners JP Pietersen and Schalk Burger have also been recalled, alongside hooker Adriaan Strauss and Lambie's Sharks team-mate Cobus Reinach at scrum-half.

England's record against the southern hemisphere's big three is making increasingly grim reading for those of a red rose persuasion. Their defeat to the All Blacks last weekend was their fifth on the trot - that 38-21 win over New Zealand in 2012 seems a world away - and it does not get much easier for Stuart Lancaster and his England side this weekend.

The Springboks have not lost to England since 2006. Back then it was Phil Vickery's late try that saw Andy Robinson given a stay of execution for a further week before ultimately being dispatched. Players have been and gone but with 11 Test matches standing between Saturday and England kicking off the 2015 Rugby World Cup, the pressure on Lancaster's men to start putting down markers is becoming ever more weighty on their shoulders.

There were aspects of England's performance last weekend that pleased Lancaster. Their set piece was solid, but they were found wanting in the second-half when the All Blacks took the intensity and ball control to another level of game management. England were left to fend for scraps off the Kiwis' table. Kicking and management have been the 'work-ons' for England this week; while they are smarting from their loss last Saturday, South Africa head to Twickenham also wanting to re-write some wrongs from their escapades in Dublin last weekend.

Similar to the All Blacks, Ireland's control of the match was exemplary with their wonderful half-backs, Conor Murray and Jonny Sexton, pulling the strings majestically. Speaking earlier this week, Heyneke Meyer said his side was surprised by Ireland's physicality at the breakdown and also struggled with a wet ball. They have time to correct those areas of weakness ahead of the World Cup but Meyer has called for an improved performance on English soil.

They have that remarkable unbeaten record on the line, but Meyer, with a team showing five changes, will be looking at individual performance alongside the team's collective efficiency. The Boks will not be scared by Twickenham; England will hope to get that fear factor back.

In form

Jonny May played well for England last weekend and managed to score his first Test try with a superb individual effort. Dave Attwood went through a huge amount of work In the second-row, while Dylan Hartley hit his targets in the lineout. Brad Barritt put in an industrious performance.

The Boks underperformed in Dublin, but Victor Matfield and Jannie du Plessis came out of the match having played well while the immense Duane Vermeulen made some dents in the Irish defence.

Out of form

England's half-backs will want to address their respective performances after an erratic kicking display against the All Blacks. There were calls for George Ford and Ben Youngs to be given the starting shirts for this weekend's match but Lancaster has kept the faith with Owen Farrell and Danny Care, who makes his 50th appearance for England. Billy Vunipola was not at his bulldozing best so he will want to repay Lancaster's faith while Mike Brown will hope to get back up to top speed after a difficult match against the Kiwis.

The Springboks will be looking for improvement across the board at Twickenham with the spotlight likely to be on Cobus Reinach at scrum-half and his partner at No.10, Pat Lambie. Willie Le Roux had a rare off day against the Irish while Adriaan Strauss will be smarting from his yellow card.

Key Battle

It promises to be an attritional game and the result could come down to the halves' control of the match. The pressure is on both sets of pairings to slow the ball down when necessary, judge their box kicks to perfection, and relieve pressure when required. Then there is the other side of the coin whereby they will be looked upon as the catalyst to unleash both sets of exciting backs.

Stats

  • Steve Walsh referees the Springboks for the 18th time, on more than the record he currently shares with Alain Rolland
  • Two of the Springboks' fathers played for the national side. Cobus Reinach's father, Jaco,played four Tests in 1986, while Schalk Burger's father, Schalk senior, played between 1984 and 1986. Schalk senior and Jaco also played together in all four games against the New Zealand Cavaliers in 1986.

Odds

England are 8/11 favourites to beat South Africa with the visitors priced at 11/10.

Prediction

Flip a coin, but we think England will win by one.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Associate Editor of ESPNscrum.

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