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England and South Africa look to address the same weakness in Twickenham showdown

By AAP
Maro Itoje of England catches his breath. Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images

England and South Africa will bring their autumn Test series to a close at Twickenham looking to banish inconsistency and hit form for a full 80 minutes.

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One intrigue at Twickenham will be discovering which England shows up against South Africa.

The England that threw caution to the wind and torched New Zealand by 19 points in seven minutes to force a draw?

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Or the England that had the All Blacks on a plate, a man advantage and possession and kicked the ball out to settle for a draw?

England closed ranks in support of game-ender Marcus Smith but the five-eighth had his detractors home and away and was booed by some in the crowd last weekend.

But it is not in England’s DNA to gamble, or think on their feet. Which made coach Eddie Jones’ praise of Smith for finally showing his aggressive nature a touch ironic.

Smith has too infrequently brought the magic he creates for club-side Harlequins to the international stage.

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Some believe he is stifled from having to slot between captain Owen Farrell and halfback Ben Youngs, two of England’s only three centurions.

It seemed Smith was emboldened at the end last Saturday by Farrell carrying a leg injury and Youngs, fresh off the bench, playing quick ruck ball like in the old days.

A perfect storm developed. New Zealand reached 25-6 with 10 minutes left and began thinking of a pleasant flight home. Then fullback Beauden Barrett was sin-binned, Smith launched England’s do-or-die charge, and the crowd found its voice.

But a brilliant finish should not shade how badly England were disarmed by the All Blacks for 70 minutes – the pack was outmuscled and outsmarted, and promising halfback Jack van Poortvliet was exposed.

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“We have an incredible amount of potential in this team, we just need to unlock it,” forward Maro Itoje said.

“We are becoming more cohesive, so hopefully it will come. I’m proud that we played some great rugby towards the end of that (New Zealand) game, but we need to play like that for the whole game.”

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Playing well for a full 80 minutes is also a goal for South Africa, who travel to Twickenham on Saturday (Sunday AEDT).

The Springboks’ development suffered after the Rugby World Cup was won in 2019 when the entire 2020 season was wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Boks have been evolving, trying to find or create space to run the ball.

They were second in the Rugby Championship by one point, and gave a rousing – if losing – performance against Six Nations champions France, when they dominated for long periods even with 14 men.

Similarly, they have had the upper hand on England for large chunks of their last two contests at Twickenham, but lost both by one point, in 2018 and 2021.

The Boks have not won there against England in eight years.

“I am not sure why winning at Twickenham has been so hard,” centre Damian de Allende said.

“What I do know is that we just haven’t been consistent enough through the entire 80 minutes.

“But we have learned from that.”

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