Martin Johnson made one change to his line-up on Tuesday – and then insisted England must become more streetwise if they are to beat South Africa in Saturday’s World Cup final rematch.
Sporting Life reports that Johnson has just a single change to his starting XV from last weekend’s 28-14 defeat by Australia, with James Haskell replacing Tom Croft at blindside flanker to combat the Springboks’ renowned physicality.
Only four of the England team remain from the side that started last October’s final in Paris – Nick Easter, Phil Vickery, Andrew Sheridan and Paul Sackey.
But that does not make the lessons England can learn from that game any less pertinent, particularly after the manner of last weekend’s defeat.
The Wallabies profited from a series of “needless penalties” to retain the Cook Cup, with Matt Giteau kicking six from seven and Stirling Mortlock landing a long-range goal.
In the World Cup final, South African full-back Percy Montgomery and Francois Steyn booted England into submission with five penalties between them.
“The guys have got to be aware that three points against South Africa is a big deal. They add up and the World Cup final is a classic example of that,” said Johnson.
“On Saturday we gave away some silly penalties and we were unlucky a few times. It wasn’t the same penalty being given away over and over again – but as a team we do need to become a bit smarter on the field.
“A lot of that is because we have a new team coming together. That is not an excuse but we have to function better in what we are trying to do. We need to put it right.
“It only takes five or six of those incidents in 80 minutes to make a difference. We want to be more efficient in what we do and make it more difficult for teams to defend against us and to not give away field position resulting in penalties and tries.
“To concede 28 points makes it very difficult to win. If we can cut that in half, which I think we can do, then you are in a fantastic position to win games.”
Johnson scoffed at Springboks coach Peter de Villiers’ claim he was struggling to motivate the South Africa players ahead of their final game of the season.
South Africa struggled past Wales and Scotland but England are bracing themselves for a fiercely physical contest and Johnson made the back-row change of Haskell for Croft accordingly.
Uncapped Leicester number eight Jordan Crane has also been brought onto the bench in place of Bath open-side Michael Lipman.
Croft may be a more effective lineout operator but Haskell’s 18-stone frame will offer an increased physical presence against the likes of dynamic trio Schalk Burger, Juan Smith and Pierre Spies.
“You have to take people on physically and you have to play smart,” said Johnson.
“You can still overpower teams physically (under the new laws) and you will see two teams trying to do that on Saturday.
“We thought that James was the right guy to start at six against this type of opposition.
“We take those comments from South Africa with a pinch of salt.
“You would be surprised if South Africa weren’t feeling the effects at this point in their season – but when you get the Saturday afternoon adrenalin, there will be no tiredness.
“It’s a big thing for opposition teams to come here and win, as you saw with the Australians’ reaction on Saturday.”
England’s failure to dominate the scrum against the Wallabies was a source of great frustration.
Johnson considered changes in all areas but he expects a more direct scrummaging challenge from the Springboks and that should suit the likes of Andrew Sheridan and Phil Vickery.
“We are not so much a technical front row but a powerful front row,” said Johnson.
“The scrummage never really happened against Australia. Every scrum was on the floor. We lost two balls because we were caught unawares when it didn’t go down.
“Against South Africa, the scrum will be in the air a lot more.”
England were also guilty of failing to convert their chances against Australia and Johnson was frustrated his players broke away from Brian Smith’s attacking framework.
But he has kept faith with the same back division for a third straight week, and said: “We want to get some consistency in the team. They are aware of the mistakes we made but they have the opportunity to correct them.
“It is about highlighting to them the opportunities that were there for this team. We have got to improve against South Africa.”
England team to play South Africa at Twickenham on Saturday, November 22:
Starting XV: 15. D Armitage (London Irish); 14. P Sackey (Wasps), 14. J Noon (Newcastle), 12. R Flutey (Wasps), 11. U Monye (Harlequins); 10. D Cipriani (Wasps), 9. D Care (Harlequins); 8. N Easter (Harlequins), 7. T Rees (Wasps), 6. J Haskell (Wasps), 5. T Palmer (Wasps), 4. S Borthwick (Saracens, capt), 3. P Vickery (Wasps), 2. L Mears (Bath), 1. A Sheridan (Sale Sharks).
Replacements: 16. D Hartley (Northampton), 17. M Stevens (Bath), 18. S Shaw (Wasps), 19. T Croft (Leicester), 20. J Crane (Leicester), 21. H Ellis (Leicester), 22. T Flood (Leicester).Tweet