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Thursday, 13 December, 2018

South Africa have too much for shaky England in Joburg

Hostile crowd and harsh conditions await Jones's men

England's Elliot Daly scored a try against the Barbarians at Twickenham
1 of 1

South Africa v England
Sky Sports Action, 4.05pm Saturday

When England last played a Test series in South Africa in 2012 they were an inexperienced team under a relatively new coach in Stuart Lancaster. They emerged with a lot of credit after two defeats by a single-figure margin before a draw in Port Elizabeth.

Six years on the question marks over England are different but still significant. They are out of form, with four consecutive defeats to their name, and the players appear jaded after a difficult year. A handicap start of just three points in the hostile atmosphere and the thin air of Johannesburg may not be enough.

Twelve months ago six of England’s starting line-up for the first Test in Joburg were away with the Lions, and few enjoyed the kind of gentle return to domestic action in the autumn that Lions players from other countries enjoyed.

It showed in the European Champions Cup, as just one English club made the knockout stage, and in the autumn Tests and Six Nations, when England looked dull and lacked intensity.

Things are not necessarily more stable in the Springbok camp. They are effectively playing their first Test of the year after a second string jetted out to Washington DC to be narrowly beaten by Wales last week.

There's a new coach at the helm in former Munster boss Rassie Erasmus, who immediately finds himself without first-choice locks Eben Etzebeth and Lood de Jager, plus Malcolm Marx, Warren Whiteley, Bismarck du Plessis, and Frans Steyn.

England's main changes are in the pack, where flanker Tom Curry and lock Nick Isiekwe make their first starts. With skipper Dylan Hartley ruled out of the tour through injury, Jamie George starts as hooker alongside prop Kyle Sinckler on his second start.

Behind the scrum, there is the usual playmaking axis of George Ford and Owen Farrell at ten and 12, with Elliot Daly at full-back after he scored in his first outing at 15 against the Barbarians. Mike Brown makes a surprise switch to the wing.

England last faced the Springboks at the end of 2016 - Eddie Jones’s all-conquering honeymoon year - and gained their first win in 13 attempts, a run stretching back to 2006.

The Boks were at a low point then, and although there are still plenty of uncertainties about them, home advantage, playing at altitude and the physical edge in their ranks should swing it their way.

There may not be much in it but backing the hosts to cover the line and record a win by up to 12 points looks the best betting approach.

South Africa -3
2pts Evs general
South Africa to win by one to 12 points
1pt 15-8 Betfair

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England's main changes are in the pack, where flanker Tom Curry and lock Nick Isiekwe make their first starts
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