England Tour of South Africa: Lancaster's reasons to be cheerful

Stuart Lancaster believes his team can win in SA

Ralph Ellis explains why the markets are underestimating England's chances of victory in South Africa as he looks forward to a patriotic weekend...


England are 3.259/4 to win the first Test, and maybe it’s a result of Diamond Jubilee patriotic fervour but I’m having some of that, if only as a back to lay.

Under prepared, one dimensional and lacking flair. Oh yes, we've heard it all before when England teams are getting ready for big tournaments.

But we're not talking about Roy Hodgson's Euro 2012 squad here. And, for once, we're not even talking about Stuart Lancaster's touring team in South Africa. No, this time, it is what South Africa's worried critics are saying about their own side a few days before the summer series kicks off at King's Park in Durban on Saturday.

Meanwhile, Lancaster is talking up his own team's prospects and insisting his tourists have 'no excuses not to perform.' It's an intriguing contrast that makes odds of up to 7.513/2 for England to win the three Test series rather tempting.

Lancaster has enjoyed several weeks working with his players since the end of the Aviva Premiership season and has had time to get a few of them over some knocks. He even has the luxury of telling James Haskell to take his time to get fit after joining up with the squad late from his duties with his New Zealand club side Otago Highlanders.

That has meant forwards coach Graham Rowntree getting some serious work into the pack on how to withstand South Africa's physical challenge, as well as allowing Mike Catt time to settle into his new role in England's support team.

New South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer only met his squad for the first time on Sunday. And that was a day after the Super 15 series ended, and his first job was to help them tend their wounds from bashing lumps out of each other for their club sides.

Meyer named veteran centre Jean de Villiers as his captain and immediately detailed the former Munster man to ensure any team spirit fractured by club rivalries could be repaired. But the lack of preparation time means South Africa will have to rely on the sort of one dimensional power game that marked the 44-year-old coach's brief and less than spectacular reign in charge of Leicester Tigers in 2008. After being appointed in the summer he returned home for family reasons in January - his wife's parents were both seriously ill. But there was always the suspicion that Tigers, while full of sympathy for Meyer's domestic issues, were at the same time happy to accelerate Richard Cockerill's move into the head coach's job.

Meyer's philosophy was explained yesterday by England prop Dan Cole who worked under him at Welford Road. "He likes to play a simple but physically dominant game", he said. "It's about big runners winning one-on-one collisions and if you win a penalty, you kick your goals. Meyer's teams want to bludgeon you to death."

Ok, those were the sort of ideals that Lancaster embraced in his first couple of games in charge when he started the Six Nations with a safety first approach. But after that he began to encourage his players to open out and become more expressive, albeit within a disciplined framework, and it gives hope that against an under prepared South African side the tourists can make a quick start.

England are 3.259/4 to win the first Test, and maybe it's a result of Diamond Jubilee patriotic fervour but I'm having some of that, if only as a back to lay. In fact, it could be a good flag waving weekend - on Betfair multiples you could double up England beating the West Indies in the third test and starting out Euro 2012 with a win over France at 7.13. Now there really would be a cause to put the bunting out!

Five things you might not know about Jean de Villiers

1. Born February 1981 in the Western Cape town of Paarl, his family run an insurance firm. He now owns 30 per cent of the business and plans to work full time after he quits playing.

2. After leaving school at Paarl Gimnasium, he began studying at Stellenbosch University but quit to concentrate on rugby. He is still registered as a player for the University team, however.

3. He made his first impact at international level in the South African Sevens team, playing a major role in teams that finished second in the 2002 World Sevens Series and third in the Commonwealth Games.

4. He tore his biceps in the opening game of the 2007 World Cup and could play no further part for South Africa's winning team.

5. He names the British folk rock band Mumford and Sons as his favourite musician

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