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Kevin Sinfield has demanded England’s players empty the tanks in Saturday’s World Cup semi-final against South Africa to ensure they are not left with lifelong regrets.
For eight of the starting XV it is the chance to avenge their defeat to the Springboks in the 2019 final when the expectations generated by a thumping victory over New Zealand a round earlier were ground into the Yokohama Stadium turf.
Steve Borthwick’s England were given little hope of challenging for South Africa’s crown due a dismal series of warm-up fixtures which extended their losing run to five defeats in six Tests, yet they are the only unbeaten side left in the tournament.
Defence coach Sinfield sees the benefit of continuing to confront adversity head on at the Stade de France.
“I am certainly not overwhelmed. I understand the challenge in front of us,” the English rugby league great said.
“But I don’t mind being backed into a corner, don’t mind being written off, don’t mind being slammed, don’t mind being in the thick of a pretty tough circumstance.
“I just think that we’re in a World Cup semi-final, there is a lot of good in us, there are a lot of things to be excited about.
We want them to give everything they’ve got, otherwise you end up with a load of regrets for the rest of your life
“Coming up against South Africa will let us know where we’re at. But for our players, they are so excited to be out there.
“Rewind eight weeks to the end of August and it was pretty grim for us, but we want them to absolutely rip into it on Saturday night.
“We want them to give everything they’ve got, otherwise you end up with a load of regrets for the rest of your life.
“We are really looking forward to this – we are coming up against the best team in the world at the weekend.”
England have a mix of ages in their squad ranging from 22-year-old George Martin to 36-year-old Dan Cole and Sinfield believes that the final message to the squad before they take the field needs to be delivered with more subtlety in the modern era.
“It’s probably more subtle than Churchillian speeches and understanding that leadership has changed and this generation is different,” Sinfield said.
“Gone is the big Churchillian leader. They do exist but they’re quite rare.”
South Africa director of rugby Rassie Erasmus is adept at what Warren Gatland describes as “dark arts”, such as using mind games to give his side an edge.
The most recent example is the suggestion that the Springboks used HIAs in their quarter-final victory over France to give forwards Duane Vermeulen, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Bongi Mbonambi a rest – a claim denied by Erasmus.
Attack coach Richard Wigglesworth insists England are ready for any scheming but believe the match will be decided in other areas.
“I’m sure that, with the smarts of their coaching team, they will try to throw stuff at us, no doubt. Will that be the winning and losing of this game? Probably not,” Wigglesworth said.
“It will probably be the big bits of the game that decides that and then they’ll give those little nuances a chance.
“I wouldn’t like to guess what they are going to try and do because I know they will watch and hear everything we say. I wouldn’t like to try and give anyone a head start.”
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