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The Springboks great that England have likened Alex Dombrandt to

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Dan Mullan/The RFU Collection via Getty Images)

England coach Eddie Jones has claimed that Alex Dombrandt, his team’s No8 for Sunday’s Guinness Six Nations match away to Italy, reminds him greatly of Bobby Skinstad, the famed Springboks back-rower who retired as a World Cup winner in 2007. 

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Jones was part of the backroom staff when Jake White’s South Africans went all the way in France 15 years ago, a campaign that brought the curtain down on the stellar 42-cap career of Skinstad, who burst onto the Test rugby scene with a win over England in November 1997.  

The 24-year-old Dombrandt made his England Test debut when starting versus Canada last July and has since added four more caps as a replacement coming off the bench in the Autumn Series wins over Tonga, Australia and South Africa and again in last weekend’s Six Nations lost to Scotland. 

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Dombrant is now one of six players from the England bench at Murrayfield to earn promotion into the starting XV that will take the field at Stadio Olimpico, getting the jump on last week’s No8 Sam Simmonds to start his first-ever Six Nations match. 

It is an exciting development given that he will line out with Harlequins teammate Marcus Smith pulling the England strings from the No10 position and head coach Jones is expecting Dombrandt to thrive against an opposition that is on a 33-game losing streak in the championship that stretches back to 2015.  

“He is not an orthodox eight,” said Jones when asked to explain what type of player Dombrandt is. “He is a free-running eight who reminds me a lot of Bobby Skinstad the way he used to play. Gets himself in good positions to attack but he needs space and this game is going to have a fair bit of space so it will really suit him.”

Jones added that he hasn’t had to put any added emphasis on the Dombrandt-Smith combination on the England training ground this past week, outlining that their link play is something that already comes naturally to them having been a part of last year’s Premiership title-winning Harlequins side.

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“They naturally do it on the field. I don’t think we need to do it tap into it. We see that certain styles of players suit each other and they have certainly got that understanding of Alex runs very good inside balls from Marcus. He has got that understanding of when to do it and they will do it on the field. At training on Friday, they did it again and I’m sure that is going to happen on Sunday.”

The inclusion of Dombrandt as a first-time England Six Nations starter will be seen as a feather in the cap for the universities pathway into professional rugby as opposed to coming through a Premiership club academy. The Londoner earned his stripes on the BUCS rugby circuit with Cardiff Metropolitan before getting signed by Harlequins in 2018 and Jones believes the more diversity in rugby the better.

“That is the great thing about rugby. When I first started playing rugby I was a physical education teacher and I remember my tighthead prop was a chartered accountant and the loosehead prop was a doctor and then both the second rows were labourers. 

“The beauty of rugby has been the diversity of the people that play the game, the size and the shape, and I still think there is even more of a need for great diversity for players to go through the academic stream first and then go into professional rugby or for some players it is better to go into the professional stream first. 

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“I don’t think there is one right or wrong way but I think you should encourage diversity and encourage young men who want to study and go down the academic stream not to be discouraged by the fact that they can’t make it to play top-level rugby.” 

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Jon 45 minutes ago
Sam Cane was unfairly cast in Richie McCaw's shadow for too long

> McCaw’s durability and sustained excellence were unique, but we seemed to believe his successors were cut from the same cloth. It’s easy to forget McCaw was just as heavily critiqued for the last two years of his career. The only real difference was his captaining criticisms and his playing criticisms happened at different times, where Cane was criticized for a few things in both areas for all of his last 4 years. This was also heavily influenced by another McCaw esque presence, in Ardie Savea, being in the team and pushed out of his original position. It could be said we essentially didn’t have the 3 prior years with Ardie as world player of the year because he was changing into this new role. I say “original” position as despite him never coming out and saying his desire is to perform his role from, that I know of, clearly as part of a partnership with Cane as 7, I don’t think this was because he really wanted Cane’s playing spot. I think it most likely that it comes down to poor All Black management that those sort of debates weren’t put to bed as being needless and irrelevant. It has been brought up many times in past few months of discussions on articles here at RP, that early calls in WC cycles, to say pigeonhole an All Black team into being required to have a physical dynamo on defence at 7 (and ballplyaer at 8 etc) are detrimental. In the end we did not even come up against a team that threw large bodies at us relentlessly, like why we encountered in the 2019 WC semi final, at all in this last WC. Even then they couldn’t see the real weakness was defending against dynamic attacks (which we didn’t want to/couldn’t give 2019 England credit for) like the Twickenham Boks, and Irish and French sides (even 10 minutes of an English onslaught) that plagued our record and aura the last 4 years. It really is a folly that is the All Blacks own creation, and I think it pure luck, and that Cane was also such a quality All Black, that he was also became an integral part of stopping the side from getting run off the park. Not just rampaged. > The hushed tones, the nods of approval, the continued promotion of this nonsense that these men are somehow supernatural beings. I bet this author was one of those criticizing Cane for coming out and speaking his mind in defence of his team that year. Despite the apparent hypocrisy I agree with the sentiment, but I can only see our last captain as going down the same road his two prior captains, Read and McCaw, have gone. I am really for Cane becoming an extra member to each squad this year, June, RC, and November tours, and he is really someone I can see being able to come back into the role after 3 seasons in Japan. As we saw last year, we would have killed for someone of his quality to have been available rather than calling on someone like Blackadder. Just like the Boks did for 2023.

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