England have dropped the flanker Jack Willis for the Test against South Africa on Saturday and also have an injury doubt hanging over the experienced prop Mako Vunipola. Eddie Jones, the head coach, has chosen instead to expand his specialist lineout options by retaining the uncapped Saracens lock Hugh Tizard in a 26-man training squad.
The unlucky Willis came off the bench in the latter stages of the 25-25 draw against New Zealand on Saturday but the breakdown specialist now finds himself surplus to requirements for a game which England’s management regard as a very different tactical challenge.
The highly promising Tizard, and the Northampton pair David Ribbans and Alex Coles are all in the mix, with Sale’s Bevan Rodd included as cover for Vunipola who tweaked his back in a lively training session on Tuesday.
Jones could opt to give a first start to the South African-born Ribbans in the second row, with Maro Itoje moving back to the blindside flank and Coles and Tizard vying for a place on the bench but, whoever plays, England are determined to take the game to the Springboks from the outset and start faster than they managed against the All Blacks.
The scrum coach Matt Proudfoot, part of the South African coaching setup during their triumphant 2019 World Cup campaign, stressed that England would need a different mindset to combat the powerful Springbok set piece.
“Last week was a technical battle [but] this week is a battle of intent, a battle of will,” Proudfoot said. “Put together the nature of the contest and the fact we weren’t at our best last Saturday and the guys are very determined.
“The challenge will be about the heavy engagement whereas with the All Blacks it’s about the speed of engagement. Where the All Blacks try and fracture you, the Springboks have a different philosophy. They try and break you apart. They come at you, look for a weakness and then put all their power into exploiting that weakness.
It’s about the whole English eight doing exactly the same thing. It’s not about individual challenges against South Africa.”
Proudfoot also revealed England’s scrummaging practice had “got a little bit hectic” after he challenged Kyle Sinckler to try and “spice up” the session.
“I asked Kyle to do a specific role for us. You need a bit of spice. It’s a big game. These guys are professionals and they look after each other but they [can] take it up a notch. These guys want to win.
The conclusion after last weekend is that there’s a lot more in the team. To be able to do what we did at the back end of the game shows there’s more in us.”
The back-row forward Sam Simmonds also made clear England are keen to finish their autumn with a bang. “We were probably 5% off in the first half against New Zealand and if you give them opportunities they are too good not to take them,” said Simmonds, who also faced the Boks on the 2021 British & Irish Lions tour and knows what is coming this weekend.
“They [South Africa] want to bully teams … it is very much a case of ‘Why would I run round you when I can run through you?’”