Rugby Union Expert & Columnist
Stuart Barnes' talking points: Schalk Brits, Sonny Bill Williams and a look ahead to England vs South Africa
Last Updated: 29/10/18 3:33pm
Stuart Barnes looks ahead to England's autumn internationals, looks back on Bledisloe III and discusses some of the major selection calls for Eddie Jones...
1. Welcome back Schalk. The 37-year-old Saracens legend is defying time as he returns to Europe as one of the three Springbok hookers.
There has been plenty of contention in parts of South Africa, notably Natal, where Currie Cup-winning hooker and Barbarians favourite Akker van der Merwe has missed out.
It will frustrate the younger man but it's easy to see the logic of Rassie Erasmus. Brits' European experience will stand him in good stead and make him priceless as a font of local knowledge for Malcolm Marx and Bongi Mbonambi.
In an end-of-year tour where tiredness is waiting around the corner for these players, his infectious good humour is another unseen boost to the tour party. Bar the few Europeans unavailable it is a strong South African side with one hole in need of filling at Number Nine.
2. I see Sonny Bill Williams continues to struggle with form but there's no danger of Steve Hansen dropping him. The All Black coach is playing the patient game.
Williams has played very little rugby this season and a sense of rust pervades much of what he does. Errors abound but Hansen - like all the coaches - has his eyes primarily glued on Japan. A few missed tackles and loose offloads are a price worth paying to getting the magic man back into the swing of it.
I have dwelt on Sonny Bill because he is a reminder that selection is so much more than looking no further than the end of your nose and picking the best form players.
3. New Zealand get another dose of verbal abuse: this time from a familiar source, Australian international and Fox Broadcaster, our old mate, Phil Kearns.
Codie Taylor shoves his opposite number Tolu Latu in the chest. The Australian reacts to the physical sledge with a push of his own in the Kiwi face. Kearns thinks New Zealand get away with refereeing favouritism again.
Had Latu been carded for retaliation with a chest shove, he would have had a point but to go for the face is regarded as a degree worse and yellow was right. Phil was not. Michael Cheika must have been more frustrated with his man's ill discipline than Romain Poite's officiating.
PS The Japanese crowd was polite in the extreme. They need to learn to scream and shout in the next year.
4. Turning our eye to Twickenham, the World Cup will neither be won nor lost this coming Saturday but a win would register as a massive move in the right direction for an England team whose direction has been less than undeviating for a while.
Given the question marks surrounding their front and back rows, a win would be an exceptional result. Of course, we'll bring you the build-up and entire game on Sky.
5. If there is a chink in the Springbok rank it is at scrum-half where Faf de Klerk will be absent. He has been the revelation of the southern hemisphere summer with his furious defence and his calm control from the base.
His absence is compounded by the fact that Rassie Erasmus doesn't have much faith in any other nine. It is a weakness in South Africa's squad in need of addressing. It's a weakness England will look to capitalise upon.
6. There'll be quite some squeeze on the steadily improving Handre Pollard. With De Klerk not there, a huge burden of responsibility for game management will fall upon the fly-half's broad shoulders.
His goal kicking is back to its outstanding best. If the rest of his game reaches the peak at which he was playing before injury derailed him for the best part of two years, he'll handle the pressure.
7. Who's going to play fly-half for England? For three years the answer has pretty much been George Ford but there's certainly a lot of media noise calling for Owen Farrell to there.
I like the twin distributors and kickers playing next to one another, splitting the field and making decision making difficult for defenders. I hope Jones sticks with the footballing formula at 10/12 which Stuart Lancaster sought and failed to find in the last regime.
8. One of the main reasons for the Farrell at 10 chorus - certainly biggest reasons - is the form of Manu Tuilagi. If he beats a single defender and carries 10 metres many of my media mates are suggesting the return is imminent and essential.
Well, against the Scarlet's he produced a second half that ranks as his best 40 minutes in two plus years. Given the strength of the South African carrying game and the relative lack of booming carriers in white, it is easy to see Jones succumbing to the temptation and unleashing the big man from the off.
Me, I think it is both premature and unfair on the Leicester Tiger. I'd have him on the bench at best and not consider him until the last two Tests with training and game time under his belt. I wouldn't be shocked if any return came at the expense of Henry Slade, not George Ford. Over to you Eddie...
9. It was encouraging to see Maro Itoje striding around to such effect against (a pretty insipid) Lyon in Round Two of the Heineken Champions Cup. It's an area of his game with room for improving.
George Kruis is back to good form which could be timely if Courtney Lawes struggles with his back. Will England opt for either Itoje or (if fit) Lawes as a six? Many experts are adamant that the idea is a bad one but South Africa have myriad lineout options and even if Jones doesn't start with such a formation, I can see a switch at some stage in the game.
10. All this boom and ballast, let's finish with the free spirits roaming the wide parts of the pitch. Aphiwe Dyantyi is my idea of World Rugby's breakthrough player of the year. Six tries in nine Tests and a fast-improving defence.
The guy is electric but I'm not having a word said against Jonny May who is one of England's most complete players. There's a loss of experience with Willie le Roux's absence but Damien Willemse has a stunning running game while Elliot Daly has the full package of pace and brain.
Let's hope the wide boys get plenty of the ball on Saturday. If you can't be at Twickenham, join us on Sky. It'll be fun...
#Followtherose this autumn with all of England's Tests live on Sky Sports throughout November. The action starts on Saturday November 3 against South Africa before clashes against New Zealand, Japan and Australia.