STEVE BORTHWICK has urged England to create a moment they will cherish in retirement by ending their long-standing victory drought against South Africa.
The Springboks launch the Old Mutual Wealth Series when they visit Twickenham today and start as heavy 4-1 underdogs as they negotiate their worst sequence of results for a decade, including a record home defeat at the hands of New Zealand.
Yet their mastery of England dates back to 2006, spanning 11 wins and a draw, and no member of the Grand Slam champions’ current squad has prevailed in the fixture.
Borthwick and Eddie Jones masterminded Japan’s stunning triumph over South Africa at last autumn’s World Cup – the greatest upset in rugby history – before switching allegiance to Twickenham, so the forwards coach understands the value of producing the extraordinary.
“I was privileged to play a lot of games of rugby but, and I said this to the groups I captained at the end of my career, I don’t actually remember an awful lot of them,” former England captain Borthwick said.
“When you look back there aren’t really that many that stick out, so it’s important for people to create really good memories and memories that stick out.
“It’s hard to find a common trend through our period of poor results against South Africa.
“We know they’re a very good side, but this is an opportunity for us to put that to bed and start a new record. That’s what we’ve been preparing for.
“We all know that Test rugby is a major physical challenge and South Africa are one of the most confrontational teams, but this is Test match rugby.
“The players are physically and mentally well prepared. This group has really developed and the leadership has been strong, not just from the captain but also from the senior players.”
Jones insists England’s approach to toppling South Africa, a team he has branded “bullies” who view rugby as “chess with steroids”, will be based on Muhammad Ali’s rope-a-dope tactics against George Foreman in 1974.
The head coach’s message has been echoed by Borthwick, who believes it is intelligence and not muscle that offers England’s clearest route to victory.
“The one thing that’s key is the players’ ability to adapt on the pitch and they do that by playing smart rugby in all areas of the game,” Borthwick said.
“They must find a way to adapt and to get the win. That’s key with this group.
“We’ve got some smart guys and it’s the players who lead it,” he added.
Courtney Lawes will lead out England in celebration of his 50th cap and the 27-year-old Northampton lock will also be calling the line-out.
“Courtney has been absolutely world class, diligent in his preparation and while he’s had one or two injury knocks, he’s looking after his body now,” line-out specialist Borthwick said.
“I’m watching him and think he’s doing very, very well.
“He’s been playing well for Northampton and is well prepared for South Africa.”