|South Africa v England – second Test|
|Venue: Toyota Stadium, Bloemfontein Date: Saturday, 16 June Kick-off: 16:05 BST|
|Coverage: Live radio and text commentary on BBC Radio 5 live, BBC Sport website and mobile app.|
England’s players still “massively believe in themselves” before Saturday’s must-win second Test against South Africa in Bloemfontein, says captain Owen Farrell.
Saturday’s defeat by the Springboks was England’s fourth Test loss in a row.
In response, England’s senior players have taken control this week to try and arrest the alarming run of form.
“A lot of honest conversations have gone on in a really productive way,” Farrell said.
“Everybody is pulling in the same direction.”
Head coach Eddie Jones admits “there is always doubt and always pressure”, but denies this match, the second in a three-match series, is the biggest in his two-and-a-half years in charge.
“They are all big games – every Test match is a big game,” Jones told BBC Sport.
But while the spirit in the camp appears unified – with Farrell adding “we’ve showed that with the way we’ve reacted this week,” – another defeat would raise doubts about the direction the side is travelling under Jones.
“We get enormous media scrutiny, and we have to always handle that,” reflected Jones. “Pressure is part of high-performance sport.”
Discipline and defence have been the focus in the England camp this week after conceding 12 penalties in the first Test and shipping five tries.
“We had a good chat about the discipline side of things. I just think we got stuck in a bit of a rut on the weekend,” Farrell said.
“The key for us is to be as calm as we possibly can be this weekend.”
“The players have really taken the bit between their teeth [this week],” Jones added. “I’m really pleased with the way they have taken responsibility.”
If England are to win in the Free State, they will have to overcome a buoyant South African rugby nation, with the Springbok supporters rallying behind their new-look team.
The victory at Ellis Park was emotionally-charged, with Siya Kolisi captaining the side for the first time as a racially diverse outfit pulled off a famous win.
Sale scrum-half Faf de Klerk felt South Africa were able to prey on the visitors’ vulnerabilities at altitude in Johannesburg, staunchly rejected by the England camp.
But England can ill-afford to let De Klerk and the Boks have a similar hold on possession, territory and tempo, with Saturday’s clash being played once again at altitude on the Highveld.
“They will no doubt want to bounce back to level the series, so it’s going to be another huge test of our resolve and character,” said Bok director of rugby Rassie Erasmus.
Shields and Cipriani in
After making his debut as a replacement last weekend, flanker Brad Shields now makes his first start, with stalwart Chris Robshaw axed from the 23.
The contrast between the selection of Shields, who has been fast-tracked into the squad, and the dropping of Robshaw, a loyal servant of English rugby, is striking.
But Robshaw was the first to congratulate Shields, while New Zealand-born Shields called the former England skipper a “legend” of English rugby.
“It just feels right being here and feels right playing for this team,” Shields told BBC Sport.
Perhaps of most interest to England supporters is the inclusion of Danny Cipriani on the bench, with Jones effusive in his praise of the fly-half’s attitude on tour.
“He’s been really good value on the tour and deserves this opportunity,” said Jones.
“His attitude has been first-class. If we need something a little bit extra at the end of the game he can give us that.”
The other two changes to the matchday squad see Joe Launchbury replace Nick Isiekwe in the second row, while Newcastle’s Mark Wilson offers lock and back-row cover from the bench.
Erasmus has also tinkered with his side, making a couple of changes up front, with prop Frans Malherbe and flank Pieter-Steph du Toit coming into the starting XV.
Meanwhile, Tendai ‘Beast’ Mtawarira cements his place in the pantheon of Springbok greats as he wins a century of caps.
“His contribution to Springbok rugby during the last decade has been enormous,” said Erasmus.
“It’s a special achievement and while he deserves the accolades, I know he will be totally focused on the most important job, and that is to face an extremely determined England side.”
What the locals say
Bloemfontein’s Citizen newspaper heralds Erasmus’ options in the second row….
…. But shine a light on the lack of fly-half back-up…
….While the selection of Shields is grabbing the headlines in both the English and South African press…