Paul Radley focuses on five figures who could greatly influence the three-match Test series, starting in Johannesburg on Saturday
South Africa v England series: Eddie Jones' side need a win to stop the rot
Fair to say both South Africa and England will have much to prove when they run out for the start of their three-Test series at Emirates Airline Park in Johannesburg on Saturday. Here are some who have the most to gain – or lose – over the next three weekends.
In his first two years at the helm, the England coach could do no wrong. Back-to-back Six Nations Championship titles and an away whitewash of Australia earned him plenty of credit.
From that position of power, he said he looked forward to making things uncomfortable for his players, to ready them for the tests to come at the 2019 World Cup.
Jones might have been hoist by his own petard since. Three losses in an abject Six Nations this year were followed by a thrashing – albeit in an exhibition match – against the Barbarians.
There have been off-field indignities, too, most recently in the form of a bizarre contretemps with Bath Rugby owner Bruce Craig, whose hair Jones likened to Donal Trump’s. What a diss.
Cracks are starting to show. A series defeat in South Africa would widen them.
The job of Springbok rugby captain is among the toughest in sport. Unrelenting expectation from a rugby-mad public, plus political and social considerations that are unique to South African sport.
Has Kolisi, the new man to take the office, got broad enough shoulders to cope? Only time will tell.
One thing is for sure, the 26-year-old flanker already has a decent enough perspective on the glorious triviality of sport set against real life.
He grew up in a township. After his mother died when he was age 15, he was raised by his grandmother. Often, he says, they had struggled to pay for his primary school fees of 50 rand (Dh14.3) per year.
“Yes, being a professional sportsman can be tough and occasionally you question if it’s all worth it,” Kolisi was quoted as saying this week.
“But then I just think about where I’ve come from and about the people that look up to me. For me to be able to help people inspired by me, I have to play every week. That is my duty."
Even Agustin Pichot, the former Argentina captain turned World Rugby vice-chairman, had a say on this debate this week.
“The game is losing something,” Pichot said on Twitter, about Shields’ call up to the England team.
To recap: England were able to select the New Zealand-born Hurricanes captain for his debut international tour on the basis that his parents were born in England.
It means he will be playing alongside players he beat in the final of the Under 20 World Championship in 2011, when he was playing in the black of New Zealand.
Whatever the ethics of the situation, it feels like double-standards from England. They deem players who leave English domestic rugby as surplus to requirements – yet are happy enough to select one who has not played there at all as yet.
Read more on Gulf rugby:
'We all wanted to honour Nick': RAK Rugby win inaugural memorial match to honour former player
There was a time, barely five minutes ago, when Handre Pollard was seen as the future of world rugby, not just South African.
He played three consecutive Junior World Championships, and was marked out for great things.
Although he has 26 senior caps, the 24-year-old fly-half has had an indifferent senior career so far compared to his luminous junior one.
Injury and form issues meant he was overtaken in the pecking order by Elton Jantjies for the past two years.
Now, though, he appears to be back in favour. And ready to make good on all that promise? Springbok supporters will be hoping so.
Much of what was said about Pollard could be applied to Slade. He was highly-regarded in junior rugby, too, after piloting England’s first Junior World Championship title in 2012.
He has not made any position in the senior side his own since, and was not necessarily fancied to be a starter against the Boks. There was far more chatter, for example, about the likes of Danny Cipriani and Alex Lozowski.
The Exeter back has been handed the No 13 shirt for the first Test, though, giving him the chance to develop an understanding with George Ford and Owen Farrell in England’s backline.