Eddie Jones has compared England’s autumn opener against South Africa to the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman.
England, the grand slam champions, are targeting a first victory in the fixture since 2006, a barren spell spanning 12 Tests, and Jones insists that standing toe to toe with opponents who view the game as “chess with steroids” is the path to defeat.
To illustrate his point, he recalls how Ali overcame Foreman in the eighth round of their heavyweight showdown in Zaire in 1974 by using rope-a-dope tactics.
Ali absorbed Foreman’s most powerful blows before delivering the knockout punches once the champion, who was feared for his power, had exhausted himself and Jones believes England need to be similarly wily when they collide with South Africa at Twickenham on Saturday.
“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. You never go into a game of rugby knowing what the opposition want to do, and then do it.
“South Africa play the game like it’s a physical game of chess — like chess with steroids. They know exactly where they want to go and they do it with force. We need to be physical in every game, but the tactical part against South Africa is different.
“Because of their overtness in their physicality they give you opportunities and we’ll take those opportunities. Rugby is always physical. It’s not a different challenge. The challenge for us is to be tactically smart.
“If you play against South Africa and they keep doing that [smacks one hand on other], their eyes light up and they say ‘how good is this?'”
Eddie Jones has turned England’s fortunes around. David Rogers/Getty Images
Jones offers his take on South African selection policy, pointing to the inclusion of the 6ft 7ins Pieter-Steph du Toit at openside as an example.
“If you’re not under 6ft 6ins you get thrown out the door. It’s easy to do selection in the Springboks. South Africa never change,” he said.
Tom Wood has been set the task of “stopping the Springboks on the gainline” after being chosen to replace the injured James Haskell at openside in what will be his first Test appearance since last autumn’s World Cup.
However, it is the inclusion of the jet-heeled Elliot Daly in place of Jonathan Joseph at outside centre that provided the biggest surprise at Thursday’s team announcement.
Joseph, who is demoted to the bench where he provides midfield and wing cover, has been dropped for the first time since establishing himself during the 2015 Six Nations to give Daly his first start following five replacement appearances.
Jones stated earlier this year that Daly is not a Test 13, but the improvements demanded of the 24-year-old Wasp with devastating speed and a thunderous left boot have prompted the Australian to revise his opinion.
“Daly’s a bright boy. He’s full of energy. He mixes well with the other guys and is a popular guy in the squad,” Jones said.
“He’s now doing the small things better — working off the ground to get in position to defend again, working off the ground to get in position to attack again.
“He’s not making the easy 50-50 pass, he’s making good decisions with the ball. He’s been really impressive.”
Jones explained the exclusion of Semesa Rokoduguni, the Aviva Premiership’s in-form wing, on the grounds that he is not ready to face a team of South Africa’s calibre, but indicated that he will play some part in the Old Mutual Wealth Series.
“You make your debut as a Test match batsman at the WACA against the West Indies and four quicks, or on the flat track in Melbourne against spinners,” Jones said.
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