Eddie Jones has urged England to follow the example of Muhammad Ali’s celebrated ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ bout against George Foreman when they face South Africa at Twickenham on Saturday.
England are unbeaten in their nine Tests under Jones — a sequence that includes a Six Nations Grand Slam and a 3-0 series win in Australia.
But they begin their end-of-year international campaign seeking a first victory over the Springboks since 2006, a winless spell encompassing 12 matches.
Jones said taking the Springboks on at their own power game was the way to ensure another defeat against a side who, in the Australian’s typically vivid phrase, treat rugby union as a sport of “chess with steroids”.
He added that England would need a boldly different strategy, citing how Ali upset the odds to regain the world heavyweight title from Foreman, widely regarded as one of boxing’s most fearsome punchers, in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) in 1974.
Ali took the seemingly high-risk approach of beckoning Foreman forward while laying back on the ropes — what became known as the ‘rope-a-dope’ — before knocking out his exhausted opponent in the eighth round.
“Against a physically aggressive side, you’ve got to play smart,” Jones said.
“We won’t be shying away from the physical side of the game, but when Muhammad Ali fought George Foreman, if he went toe-to-toe with him he was going to lose, so he had to find other ways of getting around him.
“We don’t want to go toe-to-toe with South Africa because that’s what they want to do.
“South Africa play the game like it’s a physical game of chess — like chess with steroids,” added Jones, who was a member of the Springboks’ backroom staff along with current head coach Allister Coetzee when they won the 2007 World Cup.
“The challenge for us is to be tactically smart.”
Jones has recalled Tom Wood in the absence of the injured James Haskell for his first Test since last year’s World Cup, with the flanker told to “stop the Springboks on the gain-line”.
– ‘Impressive’ Etzebeth and Du Toit’ –
In the backs, Jones has given a first Test start to Elliot Daly, with the Wasps midfielder, known, for his big left boot and speed off the mark, displacing Jonathan Joseph.
South Africa have lost four of their last five Tests but the much-travelled Jones, who in between coaching Japan to a shock World Cup win over the Springboks and taking over the England job was briefly in charge of South African provincial side the Stormers, remained wary.
He cited Stormers locks Eben Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph du Toit as potential threats.
“I had the pleasure of meeting Etzebeth and du Toit when I was Stormers coach for two weeks — very impressive young boys. Etzebeth is from a very tough family, physically aggressive, has great natural body height for a big guy, good jumping skills and a real desire to win.
“Du Toit has nice jumping skills, a bit more of a cerebral player than Etzebeth.”
South Africa outside centre Francois Venter has been given a Test debut after impressing in last week’s 31-31 draw with the Barbarians at Wembley.
Coetzee has made several changes to the team beaten a record 57-15 by world champions New Zealand in Durban last month, with a back-row injury crisis seeing du Toit moved from lock to flanker.
“He has a phenomenal work rate,” said Coetzee. “He runs good lines as a ball carrier as well.”
As for talk of South Africa going ‘Bok to basics’, Coetzee said: “It will be a proper Test match and it will most likely start up front.”
Turning to Jones, he added: “The guy does not leave any stone unturned, He’s thorough and a competitive man.
“He will never disrespect South Africa, he will never take us lightly irrespective of the Rugby Championship that we have had.” – Agence France-Presse