End-of-season southern hemisphere tours are notoriously tricky affairs.
But can England re-write history and enjoy a successful visit to South Africa?
Rugby Rugby’s Howard Johnson investigates…
England have announced a 42-man squad to tour South Africa this
summer, including one player who’s never even performed in the Aviva
Premiership in his current position. Rugby Rugby’s Howard Johnson wonders
just how the men in white will go on…
England Head Coach Stuart Lancaster was rightly hailed as a great coach after
beginning his tenure in charge of the senior England team with a ‘four wins,
one loss’ 2012 Six Nations back in March. The number of victories and the
manner in which they were achieved (with endeavour, spirit, tenacity and skill
all very much present and correct) led to the likeable Northerner being
elevated from his position as Interim Head Coach to the bona fide article in
double-quick time. ‘Good for him,’ says I. Lancaster surely did enough to merit
the opportunity to lead the side long-term and the time to put his vision into
But as I pointed out on a number of occasions during the Six Nations, equally
as important was the fact that Lancaster proved himself a lucky coach too.
England could easily have lost in Scotland and would have gone down in Italy
had the Azzurri been blessed with a kicker of even average quality on the day.
It could have been none from two with everyone baying for blood. But Lady
Luck smiled on Lancaster, that wasn’t what happened, and aren’t we glad that
things turned out so very differently?!
Now, however, the honeymoon period is over. Why? Because when Lancaster
recently announced his 42-man squad to tour South Africa in the summer he
wasn’t able to call upon a number of key players who’ve been ruled out of the
whole affair through injury. When Lancaster’s men set out on what is a
daunting five-game tour, featuring three tests against the Springboks, they will
have to do without Tom Croft, Tom Wood, Courtney Lawes, Charlie Sharples,
Joe Simpson and Rob Webber. Three of these players – Croft, Wood and Lawes
– would have been in with more than a realistic shout of making the actual test
side. See what I mean about unlucky? And then there’s also this to consider.
The England group features more than a quarter of its ranks who have
precisely zero full international caps between them. So if these boys are to
make a decent fist of things in South Africa and continue the good work that
has undoubtedly been done up to now, then Lancaster will surely need all of
the luck he can muster.
But let’s be bold and assume that luck does remain with the men in white,
while not completely losing our grip on reality. What can we seriously expect
from this England team? Can they pull off the impossible and record a series
win? Well, as Lancaster himself has said: “There’s a real excitement about this
squad. We have a massive challenge ahead of us, but it’s one that everybody
involved – players, coaches and management – is looking forward to.” Massive
challenges are what legends-in-the-making thrive on, of course. But as
massive challenges go, this one really is… well, massive.
New Springboks Head Coach Heyneke Meyer, who knows a thing or two about
English rugby after an admittedly short stint in charge of Leicester Tigers, has
been keen to talk up the Boks’ own injury problems, with flanker Juan Smith
on the long-term ‘out-of-action’ list and fellow back rower Schalk Burger also in
danger of missing the series. But Meyer has also spoken of his delight at the
level of enthusiasm in South African rugby ranks for representing the nation
after conducting a ‘getting to know you’ tour of the country ahead of three
‘planning camps’. And when has there ever been such a thing as an easy rugby
tour of South Africa?
Jaunts to the southern hemisphere have traditionally been used to introduce
new players to the senior England environment and to assess what talent
exists outside of the senior core. This is a situation that has developed out of
necessity, really, with any number of key players inevitably either injured at
the end of a long, tough season or simply knackered and in need of a rest. So
it would be ludicrous to be focusing entirely on English results on this
upcoming tour. Not when one member of the squad, Tom Youngs (brother of
scrum half Ben), has never even played at Premiership level in his position of
Lancaster has a delicate balancing act to achieve. Aims for the tour (which
clearly won’t be publicly stated) may well go beyond simple results, but the
Head Coach can’t afford to come back home with three test defeats under his
belt while saying, ‘But at least some youngsters got to see what test rugby is
all about’. Well maybe he can, actually, because that’s exactly what happened
to Clive Woodward in Australia on the infamous 1998 ‘Tour Of Hell’. After being
humiliated 76-0 by the Aussies in Brisbane, five years later Woody was back in
the same country lifting the World Cup. So even a humiliating whitewash
wouldn’t be the end of the world. But lucky Lancaster knows that momentum
is a precious commodity that makes any rugby coach’s task infinitely easier.
Having built up a considerable head of steam in the Six Nations the England
Head Coach will be determined not to take two steps backwards. It promises to
be fascinating stuff!
ENGLAND’S 42 MAN SQUAD TO TOUR SOUTH AFRICA
Forwards: Botha (Saracens), Cole (Leicester), Corbisiero (London Irish),
Doran-Jones (Northampton Saints), Dowson (Northampton), Fearns (Bath),
Gray (Harlequins), Hartley (Northampton), Haskell (Otago Highlanders),
Johnson (Exeter), Kitchener (Leicester), Launchbury (London Wasps), Marler
(Harlequins), Mears (Bath), Morgan (Scarlets), Mullan (Worcester), Palmer
(Stade Français), Parling (Leicester), Robshaw (capt, Harlequins), Robson
(Harlequins), Stevens (Saracens), Waldrom (Leicester), T Youngs (Leicester).
Backs Allen (Leicester), Ashton (Northampton), Barritt (Saracens), Brown
(Harlequins), Care (Harlequins), Dickson (Northampton), Farrell (Saracens),
Flood (Leicester), Foden (Northampton), Goode (Saracens), Hodgson
(Saracens), Joseph (London Irish), Lowe (Harlequins), Monye (Harlequins),
Strettle (Saracens), Tuilagi (Leicester), Turner-Hall (Harlequins), Wade (London
Wasps), B Youngs (Leicester Tigers).