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SA ‘A v England Saxons Preview
Johan Ackermann’s South African A side will square off against Ali Hepher’s England Saxons this Friday night at the Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein.
For both sets of players, this game represents an ideal opportunity to further their claims for senior national honours.
So which players will grab the headlines and guide their team to victory out in the Free State? Let’s see if we can find out.
South Africa A v England Saxons | Friday 10 June | Free State Stadium | 19:10
To Win (80 Mins)
SA ‘A 1/3 | Draw 22/1 | England Saxons 22/10
SA ‘A (-6.5) 9/10 | England Saxons (+6.5) 9/10
South Africa A
It’s been ages since the South African rugby public have witnessed a South Africa A game. In fact, I was too young to drink legally the last time the SA ‘A side turned out in a competitive fixture. But what a way to bring the old representative side back onto the world stage! I mean two games against a very handy England Saxons outfit, what more could any rugby fan ask for!
The man who’s been charged with getting the best out of the men selected for the South African side is Lions head coach Johan Ackermann. The former Springbok lock has done a wonderous job at the helm of the Johannesburg side. Not only did he manage to guide the union to Currie Cup glory last year but he and his right-hand man Swys de Bruin, have also turned the Lions into a real force in Super Rugby.
While de Bruin was not selected as part of the South African ‘A coaching regime, Ackerman has been handed a brilliant backroom staff with former Griquas centre Chumani Booi and career coach Abe Davids assisting him.
Ackermann has also been given a highly impressive squad, which features six players who have 'Bok caps to their names. Oupa Mahoje, Coenie Oosthuizen, Nizaam Carr, Vincent Koch, Marcel van der Merve, and Piet Van Zyl are the players who have been tried at test level. The aforementioned six will provide some much needed international know-how while youngsters such as Garth April, Lizo Gqoboka, and Travis Ismael will bring at mercurial touch to the side.
So we know they’ve got the coaching personal and playing talent to give the Saxons a hard time but what sort of playing style will this SA ‘A side implement. I’m personally hoping they go the attacking route and take a page out of the Lions' playbook. They have a flyhalf who’s capable of getting his backline running in the form Sharks’ youngster Garth April, while the likes of Travis Ismael and Courtnall Skosan are lethal when put into space.
While I don’t proclaim to be an English rugby expert, my hours spent previewing and punting on the 2016/16 Aviva Premiership season have given me a bit more insight into both the players and playing style of the Saxons.
The majority of their squad is made up of London Wasps and Exeter Chiefs men. Both of these sides had decent domestic and European campaigns with Exeter making the Aviva Premiership final and Wasps reaching the semi-final stage of both the European Rugby Champions Cup and the Aviva Premiership.
This Saxons squad also has a similar composition to it as the SA ‘A side; they have a nice blend of youth and experience with seven of the 27 man squad having turned out for the English senior side.
The most recognisable of these capped players is former Melbourne Rebels man Danny Cipriani. The mercurial pivot has enjoyed a whirlwind career that has hit some dizzying highs and some extreme lows. He comes into this tour off the back of an impressive Aviva Premiership campaign with the Sale Sharks.
Cipriani is likely to be joined in the halfback pairing by Newcastle Falcons man Michael Young who is a brilliant passer of the rugby ball. Young also enjoys a snipe around the fringe, so the SA ‘A boys’ are going to have to make sure there pillar and post men are on guard.
In order to get the best out of the Cipriani and Young combination, the Saxons forwards are going to have to front up to the SA ‘A bruisers – not the easiest task when you consider the likes of JD Scheckeling and Thomas du Toit are turning out for the South African representative side. If the English are to get a foothold in the war between the two packs they are going to need their young pack to fire.
The man who could possibly ignite the spark in the Saxons pack is former Western Province flanker Don Armand. The hard hitting loosie enjoyed a stellar season for Exeter and was rewarded with a place on the Aviva Premierships’ player of the season shortlist.
While he has all the assets of your quintessential loosie – he relishes the contact and sticks his head into places no back would dare traverse and no front row forward can fit into – it’s his knowledge of South African rugby that could prove to be most vital for the Saxons.
Verdict: England Saxons (+6.5) 17/20
This is quite a tough one to call. Both sides have competent squads and invitational games tend to see the ball thrown around quite a bit. My advice here is to get on the Saxons plus!