Eddie Jones wants his players to use the hatred that South Africa holds for them to their advantage, especially in next month’s first Test at Ellis Park, if they are to have any chance of securing the 3-0 series victory the England manager wants.
The embarrassing 63-45 defeat on Sunday by a Barbarians side who had trained just three times together got England’s summer off to the worst possible side, but the series against the Springboks will be the true test as they look to snap their four-game losing run.
England have never managed to win a series in South Africa, having struggled in the past to cope with the passion, aggression and desire deployed by the Springboks players. Having worked with the national team back in 2007 under head coach Jake White for the Rugby World Cup-winning campaign, Jones says he “probably understands the South African rugby psyche as well as any”, and believes that his side can use this passion to their advantage like past teams have failed to.
“It always comes down to the fact that the first thing you’ve got to do is beat history,” Jones said. “History shows that England have never won a series in South Africa. You guys will be able to tell me why.
“I’ve got a reasonable understanding, I probably understand the South African rugby psyche as well as any having had experiences there, and I know what they are going to be like when they play England. There are certain cultural issues between the two countries that provide great motivation for the South Africans.
“That is definitely part of it. You have to be able to exploit that and use it in a positive way. How can you use their dislike of the English to create an opportunity for yourself because you know at Ellis Park they will be unbelievably passionate and aggressive for the first 20 minutes. That creates opportunities for us. We have to be good enough to understand those opportunities and execute them.”
That feeling of opportunity – or fear – already resonates with the players who have previously visited South Africa. England may not have toured there since 2012, but a number of this squad have played in the testing atmosphere in South Africa through age-grade rugby and the dislike they experience is just as fierce, as 19-year-old Tom Curry can testify.
“At every age group South Africans just want to smash the English, it is what it is,” said the Sale Sharks flanker who was comfortably England’s best player against the Barbarians and could yet prove the most influential player against South Africa this summer. “We’re pretty prepared from under 18s, 20s, first team, you know what the South Africans are going to bring.
“We wouldn’t change our preparations, we just need to be 100 per cent every time. If you’re not 100 per cent, you can drop off and we try to be physical with 100 per cent effort every time.”
That responsibility to prepare the players for the experience that they will face – particularly the Johannesburg Test at Ellis Park where more than 62,000 fans at altitude will provide serious ferocity in the face of the English – will fall on Jones alone, and with 15 players arriving from Saracens and Exeter Chiefs this week he must start his work with the squad all over again.
“We have to re-educate the 15 players coming in,” he added. “We have made some changes to the way we play. We need to re-educate those players and then at the end of the week we will do a bit of work.
“First it is about creating an understanding of it. They need to understand why it is like that and why English teams haven’t won there in the past and then come up with an approach of how we will be ourselves.”
England at least have a fortnight to prepare for the first Test, whereas South Africa are already heading to the United States for their one-off Test against Wales that Pieter-Steph du Toit will skipper, before flanker Siya Kolisi will take over against England to make history as the country’s first black captain.
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