CHRIS FOY: Steve Borthwick is set to fight fire with fire against South Africa on Saturday as England look to deploy their very own ‘Bomb Squad’
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Steve Borthwick delivered a resounding statement yesterday about the depth of England’s forward power, which could be summed up as ‘we have a Bomb Squad, too’.
He did not utter those words, but that was the thrust of the message after the national coach named a reshuffled line-up for tomorrow’s World Cup semi-final against South Africa.
In addition to the recall of Freddie Steward at full back, Borthwick opted to promote two horses for this particular course; Joe Marler at loosehead prop and George Martin in the second row, alongside Maro Itoje.
While the Springboks have become renowned for their habit of deploying a formidable gang of heavyweight forwards from the bench to batter weary opponents, this was England showing that they can fight fire with fire. The plan is to have size and hard-hitting force early on, then have explosive pack reinforcements to come on in the second half.
Marler is in ahead of Ellis Genge as a means of reinforcing the scrum and the same can be said for Martin — who is huge and a powerful tackler. Later, Genge, Kyle Sinckler and Ollie Chessum will be expected to offer plenty of clout too, but also enhanced mobility and handling as the game — at least in theory — opens up.
Steve Borthwick has made the decision to recall Freddie Steward in the position of full back
Running man: Ellis Genge will look to rampage forward in Saturday’s crucial semi-final clash
To give him his due, Borthwick exuded more positivity and enthusiasm yesterday, and there was a hint about his bullish belief that England can stand up to the world champions’ Bomb Squad when he said: ‘They have a squad jam-packed full of power and size.
Steward; May, Marchant, Tuilagi, Daly; Farrell (capt), Mitchell; Marler, George, Cole, Itoje, Martin, Lawes, Curry, Earl.
Replacements: Dan, Genge, Sinckler, Chessum, Vunipola, Care, Ford, Lawrence.
Willemse; Arendse, Kriel, De Allende, Kolbe; Libbok, Reinach; Kitshoff, Mbonambi, Malherbe, Etzebeth, Mostert, Kolisi (capt), Du Toit, Vermeulen.
Replacements: Fourie, Nche, Koch, Snyman, Smith, De Klerk, Pollard, Le Roux
‘They are a good team to start and they’ve got players coming off the bench who are very strong. But I think we’ve got a pretty strong team as well, and we’ve got a pretty strong bench.’
The imposing 22-year-old Martin emerged as a promising rookie at Leicester under Borthwick, who said: ‘I’ve known him for a few years now; from a very young man to somebody who looks at home on the international stage.
‘He has come on to the pitch at second row and at six in this tournament. He has started a game in the pool stage and every minute he’s been on the field he’s performed — at key moments for the team.
‘The front-row boys always talk about giving the second rows pretty direct feedback on how much weight they’re giving.
‘And they’re usually pretty positive about the weight that George Martin gives. He’s a very athletic young man. Since I started working with him a few years ago, every challenge I’ve put in front of him he has just embraced and ripped right into. So I’m looking forward to seeing him go. He’s played really well through this tournament.’
Asked about his new lock partner, Itoje offered his own endorsement, adding: ‘George is a tough man and a tough tackler who enjoys the scraps.’
At the other end of the experience scale is veteran Harlequins prop Marler, who will be expected to go toe-to-toe with South Africa’s mighty tighthead, Frans Malherbe. Borthwick is confident that he is up to the task, but emphasised that the rotation of his looseheads is about having different weapons for different periods of the game.
Kyle Sinckler will be expected to offer plenty of clout off the bench against a physical SA
‘Bringing Joe back into the squad after some time away, he has been an incredible influence,’ said the head coach. ‘For me, it’s always about the balance of who’s to start and who is to finish. The combination of the two sets of front-row forwards that we have is important. Ellis was terrific last week. Joe to start and Ellis to finish is the right combination this week.
‘Both of these players (Marler and Genge) are top-quality scrummagers and that’s really important given the strength of the South African scrum.
‘We know they are rated the best scrum in the world, so we know we are going to need to scrum well throughout the game.’
There will be so much emphasis on the battle upfront this weekend. If England are to have any chance at all of upsetting the Boks, their pack have to front up, but they will also need Steward to dominate the aerial contest, as the Leicester full back has done so often in the past. He is back in the XV after being omitted for the quarter-final win over Fiji — and Borthwick offered an insight into the competitive instincts behind Steward’s genial demeanour.
Ollie Chessum will offer an enhanced mobility during the latter stages of the semi-final game
‘Before my first game coaching Leicester, I was going through the selection process and this young man, Freddie Steward, was new to the squad, out of the academy,’ he said.
‘I didn’t pick him. I watched his face when I told him he wasn’t picked for that game in 2020, and I thought, “This guy wants the challenge. He wants it, he’s ready for it, it doesn’t matter how old he is; he is ready for this”. So the next week I put him in and from that point on he has been brilliant.’
Steward has reclaimed the No 15 shirt from Marcus Smith, who was ruled out due to concussion, after suffering a clash of heads in the Fiji game. If England claim a shock win tomorrow, the Harlequins maverick should be in contention for the final.
‘He passed the first part of the HIA (head injury assessment) process, which meant he finished the game,’ said Borthwick. ‘Then there are subsequent parts of the HIA process and one part of that, he did not pass. It was confirmed to me he was unavailable for selection. He is perfectly fine in terms of symptoms and we would expect him to be available for selection after this weekend.’
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