England v South Africa: James Haskell predicted a physical encounter and he was right!

England v South Africa: James Haskell predicted a physical encounter and he was right!

As I'm still working my way back to full fitness after injury, I won't be playing on Saturday, but I will be at the match against South Africa as England's number one fan.

The Boks have not been in great form this season but are a very, very good side, as far as I'm concerned one of the best sides in the world.

They are extremely physical in everything they do and have a lot of talent.

The Boks have physicality across the board, so getting front-foot ball will be a massive deciding factor to deciding who wins on Saturday.

It's funny to be asked what I make of Tom Wood wearing my seven shirt. It's not my shirt, I'm only ever borrowing it when I play for England because you can never assume it will be yours for the next match

Woody is very good in the line-out, he has a very good work rate, he's disruptive at the breakdown and a good ball carrier when he's used.

I know how hard he's worked to get back in the team after a year out of the squad and hopefully he'll be rewarded for that on Saturday.

He's gone for the Samson look these days, which is typical Woody. Anything he does he takes to the limit. He is 100% or nothing.

For 'Movember' years ago, he had beard wax and also dyed it. When he had to chop a tree down, he learned how to be a tree surgeon. He always gets all the gear.

I took him shooting once and by the end of it he was well on his way to becoming a highly trained sniper. He has a real intensity in everything he does.

Biggest Guns in the Game?

One of the South African giants on show will be second row Eben Etzebeth, who might well have the biggest 'guns' in the game.

Former England lock Simon Shaw had massive biceps, too, but although I've not seen Etzebeth's up close, they certainly look the part.

If we went to the 'gun show', he'd probably beat me. I like to think I'd out-chat him, though.

He can be a real nuisance on the pitch, but South Africa prop Vincent Koch, who starts at tight- head for the Boks on Saturday, told me that he's a very good guy off it.

Big, Bad and Beastly

South Africa always pride themselves on their physicality and they've selected a typically big team for Twickenham.

They have picked some big, big boys up front - blind-side flanker Willem Alberts is a huge guy - but I don't think it's a surprise in any way.

England cannot allow their ball carriers any momentum - you have to tackle them and get them on the floor early, because otherwise they can be devastating.

In my experience they are the most physical team in world rugby.

In the tackle Pacific Islanders are the biggest hitters - you don't want to be running upright when you collide with them.

But across the board - scrums, mauls, rucks and so on - South Africa are probably the toughest team physically to face.

What do you make of England's Haskell-less back row?

In Chris Robshaw, Tom Wood and Billy Vunipola, England are fielding a really balanced back row and I'm excited to see how they perform.

On the bench England have my Wasps team-mate Nathan Hughes lying in wait for his first cap. He is a number eight for Wasps but England head coach Eddie Jones has spoken about playing him at six.

Nathan is a devastating ball carrier and an unbelievable 6ft 5in, near 20-stone athlete who lives and breathes rugby - it will be great when he comes on because he will ramp things up.

Also from Wasps is Elliot Daly, who is set to make his first start for England at outside centre. He is extremely fast, deceptively so, has great handling skills and is an all-round ball player who could have been a cricketer.


He's also very competitive, physical in contact and I read this week that some people have suggested in the past his defence was an issue. That has never been the case. He is a great tackler.

He also has an enormous boot on him and I have no idea of how he does it. If I tried to kick a ball like that, my ankle would snap off. He's not the biggest bloke but give him a kick from inside his own half and he'll bang it over. Remarkable.

The 6ft 5in Hughes - set to make his debut off the bench - is a ferocious ball carrier

'Props are like car mechanics'

There are two more uncapped players on the bench.

Harlequins prop Kyle Sinckler has worked very hard on his game. He's a very good guy, very funny and always trains 100%.

He just smashes people. He loves ending people holding the tackle bags and knocking people over during 'unopposed' sessions.

Very entertaining to watch, but you don't want to be on the other end of it.

There's been plenty of chat from people who know about this sort of thing, about whether his scrummaging is ready for Test rugby but it looks fine to me and is not an issue.

To be honest, nobody apart from pundits and props talk about scrums.

Props are a bit like car mechanics because no-one else understands what's going on - they could be saying any old nonsense and you just have to nod and accept it - and they also get paid large amounts of money.

I've been on the side of scrums for 14 years and for me it's just about pushing really hard, but the front rows work really hard on them. They love to make it sound complicated.

Neal Hatley is an excellent front-row coach who makes scrums interesting(ish), and the front- rowers love working with him.

Backline options for England

The final uncapped player is Ben Teo'o. He offers something different at inside centre because he is more of a carrier than distributor and kicker, which Owen Farrell is.

Before I roomed with Ben in Australia this summer I watched some video of him playing in the NRL and State of Origin, as well as footage of him after he had switched to union and played for Leinster.

He scores some great tries, he knocks people over and I've seen in training that he's got some naughty feet.He's a very talented player and I'm looking forward to seeing what he can do when he comes on - he will add something different to the England backline.

How can England win?

England have got to be clever. If you allow a big team to carry constantly at you, you're making a rod for your own back.

England will rely on the Ford-Farrell axis, and scrum-half Ben Youngs, to run the game. They need to kick accurately and, when they play, play in the right areas of the field.

Tactically England will take the risks they need to and if that means keeping hold of the ball rather than going for field position, then they will do that instead.

So who's going to win then?

England have not beaten the Boks since 2006 - 11 defeats and one draw - but I don't think that record will have any effect on the boys, they'll just be concerned with playing their own game.

I'm terrible at score predictions so I'll leave that to the fans - tweet me your score @jameshaskell or post below what you think the result is going to be.

But I do think England will win. It will be tough and physical, and it may take a while to crack them, but I expect England to make it 10 straight wins in a row under Eddie Jones.

James Haskell was speaking to BBC Sport's James Standley.

– Entry was posted on November 14th, 2016 by James Haskell

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