England have 'once-in-a-lifetime' opportunity against South Africa


South Africa v England, first Test
Venue: Ellis Park, Johannesburg Date: Saturday, 9 June Kick-off: 16:05 BST
Coverage: Live commentary on BBC Radio 5 live and online. Live text commentary on the BBC Sport website and app

England’s players have a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” when they face South Africa in the first Test on Saturday, says head coach Eddie Jones.

England have not won at Ellis Park in Johannesburg, the “spiritual home” of Springboks rugby, since 1972.

“We’ve had a great preparation, and we can’t wait,” Jones told BBC Sport. “You only get this opportunity once.”

“If you don’t get excited for this game then I think there is something wrong with you,” added captain Owen Farrell.

“The challenge for us is to win the series, and it starts on Saturday.”

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After losing just one game throughout 2016 and 2017, England’s 2018 has been a chastening one, with three straight defeats in the Six Nations and a humbling at the hands of Barbarians at the end of May.

Their three-Test series against the Springboks now takes on great significance for England and Jones, with next year’s World Cup in Japan edging closer.

“We have had a great run, it came to an end, and now we have moved on and we are on a different stage of our development,” Jones continued.

“We want to make sure we are going in the right direction, and there is no better way to show that than on the weekend,” said Farrell.

England v South Africa head-to-head graphic<!–

New era for misfiring South Africa

The Boks are also entering into the unknown, with a new head coach in Rassie Erasmus and a newly appointed captain in Siya Kolisi.

A disastrous 2017 led to the sacking of former boss Allister Coetzee, with Erasmus handed total control of team selection and rugby affairs.

Erasmus has committed to hitting transformation targets, pledging to pick a side with at least 45% of players with black or mixed-race heritage in his first year in charge.

But like his predecessor, he knows that success is the only currency for an impatient rugby public, which makes coaching the Springboks one of the hardest assignments in sport.

“Up to the World Cup next year, we have to win, we want to fix transformation, and we want to build experience and squad depth,” said Erasmus.

Both Jones and Erasmus will be feeling the pinch if they come out the wrong side of this high-stakes series.

Recent arrival Shields starts on England bench

The uncapped Hurricanes flanker Brad Shields is fast-tracked onto the England bench, just days after his arrival from New Zealand.

A former New Zealand Under-20 player, Shields was on the verge of an All Blacks cap last year, but is now set for an England debut, with the vice-chairman of World Rugby Gus Pichot the latest to question his inclusion.

“His selection isn’t being questioned by anyone in our camp,” retorted Farrell.

“Brad has fitted in really well. He’s had a bit to learn, but he’s got on and learned it. I’ve been really impressed by him. He’s definitely got the right attitude.”

Jones added: “We embrace good players that want to play for England – and that’s what he is.”

With Joe Launchbury out with a calf problem, 20-year-old lock Nick Isiekwe makes his first start in the Ellis Park cauldron, after having a breakthrough year for Premiership-winners Saracens.

Another rookie, 19-year-old Tom Curry, wins just his second cap on the open-side flank, as Jones introduces youth and energy to a side that lacked it during the Six Nations.

Henry Slade edges out Alex Lozowski, while Elliot Daly and Mike Brown again switch from their usual positions in the back three, with Daly at full-back and Brown on the wing.

There is no place in the squad for Danny Cipriani, with Piers Francis preferred as backline cover.

Premiership stars back for Boks

Faf de Klerk on the attack for Sale<!–

With some key players missing, the Springboks side has a relatively callow look, with two new wingers in S’busiso Nkosi and Aphiwe Dyantyi.

But a few big-hitters from overseas are recalled, including Faf de Klerk of Sale and Wasps full-back Willie le Roux, both outstanding in the Premiership this season.

“I think he’s picked his best team. He wants to win the first Test, and as a rookie Springbok coach you want to win your first Test at Ellis Park,” said Jones, mischievously.

Siya Kolisi’s appointment as captain – for this series at least – is a momentous moment for South African rugby, with the flanker becoming the first black player to lead the Springboks in a Test match.

Jones, who was part of the team that coached South Africa to World Cup glory in 2007, says Kolisi’s elevation to the captaincy will “give the whole country a lift”, while Springbok great Bryan Habana believes it is an “unbelievably pivotal moment”.

“It’s a monumental moment for South African rugby, and a moment in South African history,” Habana told the BBC’s Rugby Union Weekly podcast.

What the locals say

Johannesburg Star<!–

Johannesburg Star<!–

Johannesburg Star<!–

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