Rugby Stat Attack: South Africa v England

Chris Robshaw - England's indefatigable captain

With their dynamic all-action captain leading the charge, England can compete in South Africa this summer against a Spring Boks side in transition. But do Geoffrey Riddle's stats point to an historic away win?

England boast a decent pack and, with the leading openside flanker, they can frustrate the Springboks and hang in for a narrow defeat.

Recommended Bet
2pts South Africa by 1-12.5 points.

When England first went to South Africa to play the Springboks 40 years ago they came away surprising winners and although it may be a stretch too far to believe they can repeat the feat on Saturday, Stuart Lancaster's men can be competitive at King's Park.

England won 18-9 on June 3 1972 in Johannesburg and down at sea level in Durban where South Africa do not have the best record there will be many who will consider the handicap start of 7.5 points as value.

A lot has been made of the fact that England's squad have been training in camp for at least two weeks and that the home side only met up last weekend after the latest round of Super 15 matches.

England's time in camp under Stuart Lancaster may well have allowed them the luxury of rest and work in equal measure but time and again South Africa's performance in their first match of the season has been under-rated by the layers, and to their cost.

South Africa's record first up is pretty phenomenal. They have been handicap winners in their first match of the northern hemisphere summer in six out of the last eight years. Both times they were handicap losers there were extenuating circumstances as the latest was against Australia in the Tri-Nations fixture ahead of the World Cup, and the time before that was against the British and Irish Lions, which is a stand-alone event and difficult to price up.

It is tricky to get a firm grasp on exactly what sort of challenge the Springboks will provide in their first outing under new coach Heyneke Meyer. New international coaches are often under-rated by the layers purely because they know punters feel that the teams need coaches to bed in. Not true. If you look at the records of new coaches to the best international teams in recent times they have an excellent record of success up against the handicap.

Andy Robinson, (Scotland), Stuart Lancaster (England), Nick Mallet (Italy), Marc Lievremont (France), Warren Gatland (Wales), Peter de Villiers (South Africa) all coached teams to victories on the bookmakers' main handicap line during their first match. Robbie Deans' Wallabies lost on the handicap to Ireland in 2008, while Philippe Saint-Andre's France were 21-point favourites against Italy in the Six Nations this season and won by 18 points.

South Africa's scrummaging power has long been suspect but the last time prop Dan Cole took on Tendai Mtawarrira he was hauled off in the 67th minute while the Sharks prop remained on the pitch for the rest of the 21-11 defeat of England at Twickenham in 2010. They look to have the upper hand in this department.

But it is at second row where South Africa look weakest. When looking at the Springbok team it is immediately apparent that the guts have been ripped out of it. The engine room that was Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha has gone with Matfield's return from retirement put on hold by the IRB and Botha put out to pasture in the Elysian fields of Toulon.

Although Stormers lock Eben Etzebeth has been touted as meaner, bigger and nastier than Botha, nobody should fall for the hype just yet. Botha was a grizzled veteran and had proved himself at the highest level as an enforcer while Etzabeth will win his first cap on Saturday. England's Courtney Lawes has come a long way since his debut, but even he showed that he was still wet behind the ears when he had the ball unceremoniously ripped from him against Wales in the Six Nations. It eventually proved the difference between a Grand Slam and finishing as the runners-up.

Where England also have a significant advantage is at flanker. Heinrich Brussouw and Schalke Burger are absent, as is Juan Smith and the hulking Willem Alberts can not quite boast the excellence of that trio.

The indefatigable Chris Robshaw is clearly superior to Alberts. The Harlequin is no joke and is quickly becoming one of the most inspirational figures in English rugby. His performance against Leicester in the Premiership final was extraordinary and South Africa will struggle to generate momentum with him on the pitch.

With Morne Steyn and Francois Steyn acting in tandem for the home side it is clear that Meyer's Blue Bulls strategy of the kick-chase will be used - both are expert tactical kickers.

England boast a decent pack, not world class, but decent, and with the leading openside flanker they can frustrate the Springboks and hang in there for a narrow defeat.

Recommended Bet
2pts South Africa by 1-12.5 points.

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