It is 10 years since England defeated South Africa and two of the defeats in the 12-match unsuccessful sequence since then came in 2007 when their head coach, Eddie Jones, was part of the Springboks’ management team in that year’s World Cup.
Having masterminded a series whitewash earlier this year against another of his former teams, Australia, he has given his squad an insight into the psyche of Saturday’s opponents at Twickenham.
South Africa may not be as imposing as they were in 2007, when they defeated England in the World Cup final having thrashed them in the group stage, but Jones has told his players to expect an early onslaught as the Springboks look to impose themselves physically.
A year ago Jones was on his way to South Africa to take charge of the Stormers. He had barely got his feet under Table Mountain when England came calling and this week he finds himself plotting against a fellow member of the South Africa coaching team nine years ago, Allister Coetzee, who took charge of the Springboks earlier this year.
“He has a sharp rugby brain and is very good with people,” said Jones. “He is also the type of guy who can absorb the pressure he is under now. South Africa have had a terrible year and lost four of their last five Tests, so imagine you are a Springbok, copping it from every conceivable place – the media, fans and friends.
“It is a difficult time for them with a new coach having lost some of the biggest icons of the game.
“They have one crack at redemption, beating England. Do that and they go home heroes. They will arrive with a certain amount of desperation. And desire changes performance, as was seen at Munster the other week. South Africa are almost at the point of no return and we have to be able to match their desire. We know what we are going to get and it will come down to our players’ mind set.”
England will confront South Africa head on and in the Vunipola brothers, Billy and Mako, they have two players who not only relish physical confrontation but have a creative side to their game that is taking them towards the world-class status Jones believes England have lacked for too long. The pair have stood out for Saracens this season, with the prop Mako for once generating more notice than his younger sibling flanker. “I would rather he did well than me because people have always wanted to talk to me, not my brother,” said Billy.
“He is playing well and I know he is probably a better rugby player than me and most of our forwards. He has got that hard edge to his game but also the soft hands. We have to stay humble and keep on top of our work or we will get complacent.
“We know we have to knuckle down and work hard if we are to beat South Africa. Victory is not just going to arrive. Eddie has drummed it in that it is not going to be easy and with his experience I am not going to question him. We have a great squad and it is an opportunity for us to take the ship forward.
“South Africa are a straightforward team. They have got very big players who are skilful and the rugby they play means that, if you do not stand up to them, you are going to get beaten. Eddie said they like to try and break teams down by playing on top of them. You have to stand up to that and I would rather someone ran at me rather than round me.”