The Springboks will be hell-bent on ending the year on a high when they take on England at Twickenham on Saturday, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
It’s set to be a humdinger at the home of English rugby to wrap up the 2022 international season but first up is a clash in Cardiff, where Wales and Australia will look to sign off with a win.
Wales v Australia
Saturday, 26 November – 17:15
There had been lows. The shock 22-21 loss to Italy, who hadn’t won a Six Nations match in seven years, and a 55-23 annihilation by the All Blacks, but things went from bad to the absolute worst last weekend when the limp Dragons crashed to a historic 13-12 defeat to Tier Two Georgia.
Most worryingly for Wales is the fact that while Wayne Pivac had made some changes, it wasn’t a completely overhauled second-string side that slumped to that unthinkable upset.
Fortunately for them, Australia are limping into the encounter after their gallant effort against Ireland in Dublin ended in a heartbreaking 13-10 defeat, and Rob Valetini and Nic White joining Andrew Kellaway, Hunter Paisami, Dave Porecki and Taniela Tupou on the injured list.
As a result, Dave Rennie – who’s not much better off than Pivac – has to call on fringe players who themselves are carrying the scars of a first-ever loss to Italy two weeks ago.
Australia have lost three of their four tour matches, however, all four could’ve gone either way. The performances against France and Ireland showed their heart and potential and as depleted as they are, the motivation of snapping a three-match losing streak against Wales (all decided by four or less) will carry them home.
England v South Africa
Saturday, 26 November 19:30
It’s fitting that a season in which the margin between northern and southern hemisphere sides has shrunk to inches culminates with a blockbuster battle that could go either way.
The Springboks ran riot in Genoa last weekend, scoring nine tries in their 63-21 thrashing of Italy to register the first win of their end-of-year tour following narrow back-to-back losses to Ireland and France, while England staged an epic comeback against the All Blacks, scoring 19 points in the final 10 minutes to snatch a 25-all draw.
It sets up a season-ender of epic proportions and presents two burning questions: who has more left in the tank, and, will we see Eddie Jones and Jacques Nienaber – with Rassie Erasmus in his ear – spring a few surprises?
The hosts will be fuelled by a sold-out crowd. Will that be enough to sustain them for the full 80 minutes after the brutal battle against New Zealand, though? South Africa’s Italian job was light work by comparison.
The visitors have been forced to field an understrength side with a chunk of their squad who ply their trade in France and England unavailable as the clash falls out of the Test window.
However, it remains a top-tier team and the new blood brought in will only aid them in terms of energy and physicality, which will be kingmakers along with execution and discipline.
In terms of possible surprises, Jones loves playing tricks on South Africa and masterminded Japan’s seismic shock win over the Springboks in the 2015 World Cup in Brighton.
On the flip side, Jones will be wondering if the men in green and gold will play a more enterprising brand of rugby after experiencing an attacking metamorphosis over the past fortnight.
The answer to the latter question probably lies in the middle. Siya Kolisi and company won’t lean towards an attacking or conservative style but will instead seek to strike a balance as they did to perfection in the 32-12 World Cup final win over the English three years ago.
It’s been eight years since the Springboks beat England at Twickenham, so the hosts are rightful favourites, but that’s exactly the motivation a touring team needs to get up for one final battle.
Add the fact that there’s little between the teams and the Springboks have some fresh legs and they are the pick to make as juicy underdogs.