Scottish Daily Mail

Rassie kicks off the mind games by guessing England line-up

- By Nik Simon and Chris Foy in Paris

SPRINGBOKS coach Rassie Erasmus kicked off the mind games last night by attempting to name England’s team for the World Cup semi-final.

But the mischievou­s South African stopped short of selecting their full-back as he could not decide between Marcus Smith and Freddie Steward ahead of Steve Borthwick’s official team announceme­nt tomorrow.

The last time the nations met at a World Cup was when South Africa won the 2019 final in Japan — and Erasmus believes England’s players will still have ‘beef’ about that defeat.

‘They are a massive speedbump for us to get over,’ said Erasmus. ‘I was looking at their possible team and we average 200 minutes per player; them 260. The average caps in our team will be around 54; them around 59. Average age for us 30; them 29. Average weight 104 against 105. They’re unbeaten and have stuck to their guns.

‘Their team is full of belief. They’ll definitely be hurting, not just from the loss last year but also from the World Cup final in 2019.’

Erasmus had his predicted England line-up written down on a piece of paper at yesterday’s press conference.

‘Now, we’re guessing, obviously. We took the basic guys — (Ellis) Genge, (Jamie) George, (Kyle) Sinckler, (Maro) Itoje, (Ollie) Chessum, (Courtney) Lawes, (Tom) Curry, (Ben) Earl, (Alex) Mitchell, (Owen) Farrell, (Elliot) Daly, (Manu) Tuilagi, (Joe) Marchant, (Jonny) May, Marcus Smith or (Freddie) Steward. That’s who we think, but we might be totally wrong.

‘Firstly, guessing their team it’s interestin­g — Marcus, will he or Freddie play? Marcus has the massive X-factor while Freddie is unbelievab­le under the high ball. Will Owen play inside centre with Tuilagi outside or will (George) Ford play fly-half and drop-goal everything there? They’ve got Courtney who can play lock and flank, he’s been such a rock at flank for them and they have the energy of the other two young loose forwards.

‘They bring energy on the field in all department­s. They’ve got Sinckler there, Jamie and so many experience­d players who played against us last time. I think because they played us end of year last year, and they played us at the Rugby World Cup and Rugby World Cup final, and I think they’ll have some beef with us. I think they’ll be very physical, they’ll definitely step it up in all set phases.

‘Tuilagi, it’ll be a big job to stop him regardless of what position he plays. Then you have Farrell, and the new scrum-half and I’m sure Danny Care and Ben Youngs will be in the mix. But the new scrum-half is certainly someone who can light it up with his breaks around the rucks. There are threats all over the park and it’s starting to get together for Borthwick.’

England are anxiously waiting to discover if Smith will be fit to play. The squad returned to training yesterday and he was among a small group of players on a ‘modified’ programme. Having started in the 15 shirt against Fiji in Marseille last Sunday, he took brutal punishment in the line of duty but showed remarkable resilience to withstand the onslaught.

Defence coach Kevin Sinfield expressed quiet confidence that he would be available to face the Springboks if selected, then paid a warm tribute to his gallantry.

‘I think we’d all agree he’s a world-class 10, but last week I felt he was a world-class 15 as well,’ he said. ‘You’ve got to remember this guy has only played 100, 120 minutes as a full-back in Test rugby so far. What he’s done on the training field for it has been outstandin­g. You’re blown away by what he does and he’s been given more time and space now.

‘If there was any doubt about how brave and courageous he is, I think you saw it. The bloke got his face smashed and threw his body into tackles. The guys are in full admiration for how he’s gone about it.’

At the start of training, Sinfield spent time working closely with Steward, who last week suffered the rare shock to the system of being left out of the match-day 23.

‘I have worked with Fred for some time now and thankfully not had to have many of these conversati­ons where I’m trying to pick him up,’ said Sinfield.

‘Clearly he’s disappoint­ed, as anyone would be, missing out on a quarter-final, but he’s responded as we’d expect him to. He’s a great lad.

‘You know what he is about; he works incredibly hard at his game, he cares and he is an unbelievab­le full-back, too. We are in a pretty fortunate position where we have three world-class 10s and two world-class full-backs.’

 ?? ?? Cheeky: Erasmus tried to predict the England team
Cheeky: Erasmus tried to predict the England team

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