Oh England, you lionhearts ... come on, let’s have it
There is a sense of always wanting to put one over on the rich boys. But SA’s interest is deeper than that
Unless something dramatic happens to the healthy state of New Zealand rugby, the All Blacks will remain the Springboks’ main target and rival. But England are a close second.
Saturday’s clash at Twickenham is the 42nd between the sides – only New Zealand, France and Australia have played more against the Boks – which is a reason the Roses remain a respected rival.
England is the spiritual home of rugby, which makes them a target for any side, while the Rugby Football Union is the richest and most powerful national body in the game. There is a sense of always wanting to put one over on the rich boys. But SA’s interest is deeper than that.
Invoking Boer War atrocities has been a tactic of some Bok players and coaches over the years, but that is no longer what the Boks are about. The demographic and culture of the SA team is far removed from a narrow volk versus the rest viewpoint.
The real reason not only the Boks, but most teams in the world, love to hate the English is that they are pretty good at rugby and always have been.
England have a decent record against the three southern hemisphere giants. They’ve won a respectable 44 of 138 Tests (34%) against New Zealand, SA and Australia.
France, for instance, have won only 41 of 151 Tests against the same three (27%). Yet Les Blues are often perceived as the one northern hemisphere team that consistently troubles the south’s big three.
England of course are also the only northern hemisphere team to have won the World Cup, while they’ve been runners-up in two others. That is an excellent record in itself.
Yes, England have had periods of comically bad teams, but need we remind ourselves that the Boks have recently lost to Italy and Japan and as well as suffered two 57-point drubbings by the All Blacks. Glass houses and all that.
England’s record is what earns them the Boks’ respect. They’ve beaten SA 14 times in those 41 clashes (34%). England won the most recent clash 25-10 in Cape Town in June, but the Boks had already won the three-match series by winning the first two Tests.
Only Australia with 37 wins in 87 clashes (42.5%), and the All Blacks with 58 wins in 97 clashes (59%), have won more against SA. That has earned them a right to be considered great rivals.
England play a style that has always tested the Boks’ feared physicality, which has earned the English grudging respect.
England flank/lock Maro Itoje is one man who understands that playing against the Boks demands everything from a player, and it’s that challenge that inspires both sides.
“These are the types of challenges you want to face, especially after the summer where we probably didn’t put our best foot forward with the first two Tests,” Itoje said. “So this is another good opportunity to get better and show what we’re truly about.
“I’ve played with quite a few South Africans over the years so I guess it gives you an insight into the way they think about rugby and their mentality. Whenever South Africa play, whether it’s U20s or the senior side there is always that physical challenge.
“We are very clear on the type of rugby we want to play. We want to be confrontational, playing on the front foot and having a dominant set piece.”