This was a different sort of mind-game. This was more about Eddie Jones delivering a call to arms to his own forwards rather than firing a shot across the bows of the menacing Springboks.
The England head coach named his team on Thursday to take on the heavyweight world champions and promptly laid down a challenge to the pack he had selected.
Some leading men are missing — notably two top hookers and two pedigree loosehead props — but Jones wants the chosen men to rise to heights of defiant ferocity.
Eddie Jones has laid down the gauntlet to his England players and face up to the Springboks
So he created a cause, by claiming that the Boks regarded the English forwards as ‘weak’ when they met in the World Cup final in Yokohama two years ago. It did not take long for doubts to be widely expressed about whether any South African player or coach had ever voiced disrespectful views about England’s pack, but that was not the point. Jones had created a cause.
It evoked memories of another episode during the 2019 World Cup, when the Australian speculated that the All Blacks might have sent spies to observe England in training, prior to the semi-final encounter between the teams. Again, doubts were expressed, but there was a commotion and in the aftermath, New Zealand were put to the sword. The ploy worked.
Perhaps that one was about generating a siege mentality and inconveniencing the opposition, whereas this ploy is about lighting a raging inferno in the ranks of the England forwards. Perhaps this pre-match strategy will pay off too.
Setting out his stall on Thursday, after naming a pack including rookies Bevan Rodd and Jamie Blamire in the front row, Jones said: ‘You’ve got to get stuck in. There’s no getting away from the fight. Physicality is an important part of Test rugby. If you look at the history of South Africa v England, they have a 65 per cent winning record and that is probably based on their physicality.
Jones (centre) claimed that the Boks regarded the English forwards as ‘weak’ when they met in the World Cup final in Yokohama two years ago – which saw South Africa come out on top
‘They said after the World Cup final, where they beat us fair and square, that they knew where our weaknesses were and they were implying that our forward pack was weak. After the World Cup final their captain Siya Kolisi said he knew how to beat us. Their game is based on physicality so the implication is that they can go over our forward pack.
‘But our English forward pack will not be weak on Saturday. We will have 82,000 people supporting that pack and we are looking forward to that contest up front. We will deliver a strong, spirited, energetic, aggressive display from our pack. We are looking forward to taking them on in that physicality. No team is unbeatable.
‘South Africa are a very experienced team and they know how to handle the emotion well. They showed that in the 2019 World Cup and they showed that in the Lions series. There is always a chance you can over-boil. One or two of the players could lose it a little bit, and it then becomes like Covid — contagious. But you can only do that by putting pressure on them. We intend to do that.’
Jones admitted that the daunting task for his team against Jacques Nienaber’s powerful and highly-motivated visitors is to ‘take their might away’.
Courtney Lawes will captain the side from flanker in the absence of Owen Farrell
England will have to do so without several key men who are unavailable — the injured hookers Luke Cowan-Dickie and Jamie George, the isolating Ellis Genge and the out-of-favour Vunipola brothers, Billy and Mako.
When asked how Newcastle hooker Blamire is likely to cope with this momentous occasion, the head coach said: ‘He’s up for the fight. The whole team is up for the fight. I’ve never seen a team as ready to play against South Africa. This South African team is the best team in the world at the moment, so there is a great opportunity for us to prove ourselves.
‘Someone like Rodd was a third-choice prop in the summer and he is now a starting loosehead. We don’t know how good these guys are going to be but they have got an opportunity to show how good they are now.
‘Whatever they do on Saturday, they are going to be better in the future. This is a young team and when you are young, you have got that spirit of adventure. That is what I see in this team, an enormous spirit of adventure.’
For the England rookies, this will be new territory and a level of intensity they will not have experienced before. For Jones and the players involved on that fateful November night in the Far East, there is a different dimension to Saturday’s fixture.
Jones says Jamie Blamire (above) is ‘up for the fight’ after being named in the starting XV
‘Personally, you never forget it,’ said Jones. ‘And the players who played in that final, they never forget it. It is with you your whole life. At the moment, the 2019 World Cup is not a significant memory that I have but that is not to say I still don’t wake up in the morning and think about it. It is a scar that you have for the rest of your life.’
So is this an English quest for vengeance? ‘Not at all,’ he added. ‘We don’t get the World Cup back. We don’t get a gold medal back.
‘So this game is about this South African team who are No1 in the world and we are No 3. They think we have a weak forward pack. We will see on Saturday.’