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'I know they watch everything and hear everything we say'

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Geoffroy van der Hasselt/AFP via Getty Images)

England haven’t been just preparing themselves for the physicality of the Springboks this Saturday night in Paris but they have also been taking steps to ensure they are ready for the likely inclement weather, conditions they haven’t yet encountered at the Rugby World Cup.

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All five matches so far in their France 2023 campaign elsewhere around the country have been played out in summer-type weather, with only the humidity a drawback, but there has been a noticeable change in the conditions since their arrival in the French capital last Monday.

Unlike what they encountered in Marseille, Nice and Lille when successively beating Argentina, Japan, Chile, Samoa and Fiji, the humid temperature has dipped and there has also been rain, more of which is expected to fall during Saturday night’s last-four knockout encounter at Stade de France.

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Thunderstorms are forecast for early afternoon in the Paris region, with a 60 per cent chance of a downpour in the second half of the semi-final. “Definitely comes into our planning,” explained assistant coach Richard Wigglesworth after England completed a Friday morning captain’s run at the National Institute of Sport, Expertise and Performance where the floodlights were switched on due to the overcast conditions.

“We have looked at the weather forecast; lads have had some wet balls as would normally be the case in these sorts of weeks and talking about what that means for you, your units, you as an individual. Yeah, definitely part of our planning.

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“It would be pretty standard for a lot of teams when the weather is meant to be like that at the weekend, there would be a logistics guy on the sideline with a bucket of water with balls ready to go into whenever we are swapping or whenever we are starting a set.

“That ball will be wet, the lads will get told about it so it’s no surprise. It’s just so we are focusing in on what that might be like, the difference of handling a wet ball versus a dry one.”

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Winger Elliot Daly should expect then to have to cope with multiple wet ball catches given the monstrous South Africa kicking game. How will he adapt? “It’s probably everyone’s role. The back three are probably going to take most of these balls but it’s everyone around them to try and secure that breakdown after because that is a massive thing, especially in the wet.”

The breakdown was another prime talking point as England signed off on their on-field preparations ahead of taking on the defending world champions, who beat them 32-12 in the 2019 final in Yokohama. “It’s a massive challenge of the game against South Africa, the ruck,” agreed Wigglesworth.

“They compete really hard for the ball; you switch off for a second and they will pour bodies into it. They are amongst the best in the world in that area so that has definitely been a focus for us this week in terms of how we get that bit right.

“If you are playing against this defence off slow ball then it will swallow you, so definitely a focus for us. As for the referee (Ben O’Keeffe), we have got full trust he will do a great job in that area.”

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Wigglesworth chose his words guardedly throughout the 15-minute media briefing he attended along with Daly and back-rower Tom Curry. With good reason, as he explained. “I’m sure with the smarts of their coaching team they will try to throw stuff at us no doubt. Will that be the winning and losing of this game? Probably not.

“It’s the big bits of the game and then give those little nuances a chance. I probably wouldn’t like to guess what they are going to do because I know they watch everything and hear everything we say. Whatever we give away, I wouldn’t like to give anyone a head start.”

What does he make of the Springboks? “Just super impressed with them as an outfit. They have evolved a little bit but without changing their DNA which we know is incredibly physical with a good kicking game on the back of a rush defence, stuff that we are going to have to deal with but we need to make sure we are giving them some food for thought as well.

“This game means a great deal. We know the stakes are high but we have to treat this as a game by itself and not play what next week might bring, so we’re fully focused on playing one of the best teams in the world.

“It’s a World Cup semi-final. There is no way you go into that game without feeling something, that’s a good thing. As for being written off, that has been for a fair while now.”

The assistant made no apology either for the particularly blunt type of rugby England have played at the tournament. “They [the players] should take a lot of confidence from what they have done so far managing to win the tight ones but that goes up a level this week.

“We know the size of the challenge in front of us. It’s a good thing that we know it and we’re excited about it. Saturday night we need to give the best of us and I’m sure we will.

“I don’t think anyone should apologise for being who you are and having your identity. Sometimes it feels like people want that apology and everyone play the same way.

“The game of rugby is brilliant because of all the different styles and they all work if you get it right on the day. We need our style to work for us.”

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Comments

6 Comments
K
Kabous 268 days ago

Even if England does play well, the pressure will be enormous and plays have to be embedded to beat a team like the Boks, but that takes time, time the England team did not have.

P
Poe 268 days ago

Yeah. I don't think any team should take ‘half assed’ for ‘identity’.
England management missing the point again.

s
sean 268 days ago

Awful , rugbypass is losing the plot

K
Kwasi 268 days ago

The title sounds like the Boks are spying on the poms. Really bad journalism.

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