Three crunch matches await Eddie Jones’ England as they head into the rugby heartland of South Africa
South Africa v England, from Saturday 9 June, 3pm, Sky Sports Action/HD (CH 517/507)
Your sensational sporting summer is about to get a whole lot rowdier, as England look to rebuild after the 6 Nations with a titanic three-Test series against the Springboks live on Sky Sports.
The Red Rose can gain some much-needed momentum ahead of next year’s World Cup by seeing off one of the sport’s powerhouses on their own patch. But it won’t be a scrum in the park against a team they’ve struggle to dominate away from home.
England have only won three times in 13 attempts when they’ve squared off against the Springboks in South Africa, with their last triumph coming 18 years ago.
Meanwhile their opponents have their own rebuilding to do on the international stage, having fallen down to sixth place in the world rankings. New coach Rassie Erasmus has plenty of work to do in lifting the team back to where they feel they belong.
Can the Erasmus era get off to a flying start, or will England have a summer to remember? With the first Test fast approaching, we’ve picked out the key players from each team that you need to know about…
The headline grabber – on and off the field. Long overlooked by Eddie Jones for being all style and no substance, the fly-half has dazzled this season for high-flying Wasps and shown a maturity that’s earned him his first call-up since 2015. If he gets game time, expect fireworks from a player who will be plying his trade at Gloucester next term.
The other big talking point, mainly because Shields has never played in England. Regardless, the New Zealand-born Hurricanes captain qualifies through his parents and will be playing for Wasps next season. Persistent chatter around his eligibility aside, the back row forward is a fearsome leader and has been picked on the basis of impressive form and unrivalled fitness.
England’s captain for the tour, thanks to Dylan Hartley’s enforced absence, is under pressure to lead his country to victory in South Africa. But what he lacks in physical stature, he more than makes up for with Lancashire grit. The beating heart and snarling face of Eddie Jones’ England side.
Big Billy is back – and boy have England missed him. The barnstorming number eight missed a Lions tour of New Zealand, the entire 6 Nations and bulk of the Premiership season through injury. He’ll be desperate to channel that hurt – and 12 months’ worth of pent-up aggression – into any and every oncoming foe in South Africa. Springboks, you have been warned.
A thoroughbred rugby player and the one shining light in a disappointing 6 Nations campaign for the Red Rose. Whether on the wing, in the centre or at full-back, the Wasps trickster makes things happen and can strike a penalty from his own 10-metre line. That’s far. Really, really far.
Eben Etzebeth is no ordinary rugby player. It’s said he had 75kg dumbbells purpose-built for him because the regular gym weights were too meagre. Freakishly big, strong and scary, he’s racing to recover from a long-term shoulder injury. Assuming he’s fit he’ll captain the Boks – good luck winning so much as the coin toss against him.
Faf de Klerk
The livewire Sale Sharks scrum-half has shone in Greater Manchester this season, setting a tempo that demands all-action attacking rugby. If given the nod he could be the man that provides the spark for South Africa’s revitalisation.
The 2014 World Rugby Junior Player of the Year has never quite lived up to the hype – yet. Vying with the exciting but erratic Elton Jantjies for the pivotal number ten jersey, he’ll know it’s high time he fulfilled his enormous potential when England come to town.
Willie le Roux
One of the Aviva Premiership players of the season, the Wasps full-back topped the league’s assist table with 21, seven clear of the trailing pack. England must keep him at bay if they want to give themselves a chance of winning this series.
The Stormers prop is destined to catch your attention, with his shock of fiery red hair and that name (we defy you not to giggle every time “Kits-off” is name-checked by the commentators). He’s also an effective scrummager and all-round wrecking ball.
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