LONDON, November 26, – England are bracing for a bruising South African backlash here Saturday as the reigning world champions attempt to bounce back from their shock defeat to Scotland.
After an encouraging display against New Zealand was followed up with victories over Australia and Samoa, England have the chance to confirm their resurgence with their first win over South Africa in four years.
But England manager Martin Johnson has warned his young side to expect a "full-blooded" encounter with the South Africans, still smarting from their 21-17 defeat against the Scots at Murrayfield.
"It is going to be a big, big game. It is a cracking game to be involved in whenever you play South Africa and you always know what you are going to get in terms of intensity," Johnson said.
"We know we will have to play at a very high level to win. It will be physical, intense and a great Test match. Everyone is looking forward to a full-blooded match at Twickenham."
England blindside Tom Croft has vivid experience of the physicality of the South Africans after touring the country with the British Lions in 2009 and taking part in the titanic second Test in Pretoria, won 28-25 by the Boks.
"That second Test was the most physical I have played, one of the biggest games I have played. At the end of it I was absolutely battered," Croft said.
"It is all very well talking about South Africa’s physicality but England are a physical team and we won’t just try to absorb them and match them. You have got to surpass it. We will try to take them out in that area of the game.
"If you sit back against this team, who are the world champions, they will take the points and it will be very hard to come back from.
"England are a team that want to go forward. We don’t want to take backwards steps. We are a difficult team to beat and we have every confidence in ourselves."
The fact that England head into the match with a genuine chance of ending their South African losing streak is testimony to the progress which has been made since Johnson’s appointment in 2008.
Two years ago, the South Africans came to Twickenham and administered a brutal 42-6 drubbing which remains fresh in the memory for the England manager.
"It wasn’t a fun day but that is sometimes what you go through," said Johnson, who has assembled a settled squad which is notable for a crop of young players who are only just embarking on their international careers.
Johnson however smiles at suggestions that England have established themselves as the finished article.
"I think our standards are certainly higher than they were six to eight months ago. Our expectations of each other are higher and as a team we are able tell each other ‘that needs to be better’," said Johnson.
"The great thing is the younger guys have come through and the older guys have come back and are playing well."
Johnson’s South African counterpart Peter de Villiers meanwhile knows that his position will come under fierce pressure again in the event of defeat.
De Villiers has made two changes to his team, recalling scrum-half Ruan Pienaar and restoring dynamic number eight Pierre Spies in the back row at the expense of Ryan Kankowski.
Wholesale changes were never an option, de Villiers said. "There is no panic. This team has all the ability we need – but what we all know is that we have to execute more accurately than we did against Scotland," he said.
"That game is behind us now but we’ve looked hard at the lessons of it and know that we can’t allow ourselves to make as many mistakes in our basic execution.
"Saturday’s performance wasn’t a true reflection of the talent in this squad and the players want to put that right and end the Test season on a high."