Rugby under fire and referees – talking points ahead of England v South Africa

England complete their autumn schedule when South Africa visit Twickenham in Saturday’s rematch of the 2019 World Cup final.

Here the PA news agency examines five talking points heading into the clash.

Jones demands respect for officials

Rassie Erasmus
Rassie Erasmus will not be in charge of the Springboks at Twickenham (Adam Davy/PA)

For the second year in a row, Springboks director of rugby Rassie Erasmus is barred from Twickenham as he completes a matchday ban for criticising officials. Eddie Jones has joked that Erasmus will enter the stadium via a laundry basket, the tactic once used to circumvent a suspension by Jose Mourinho when he was Chelsea boss, but the tone of England’s head coach became more serious when discussing the importance of showing respect to referees. Erasmus’ conduct is a recurring problem for World Rugby, who will welcome support from prominent head coaches.

Rugby in the dock

Bill Sweeney
RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney (Nick Ansell/PA)

“Failure on an epic scale” were the words used by MPs to describe rugby chiefs’ handling of the crises at Worcester and Wasps, who are both in administration. A brutal Thursday saw the RFU’s Bill Sweeney and Simon Massie-Taylor of Premiership Rugby grilled by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee, leaving Twickenham in need of fireworks for the climax to the autumn in the hope of lifting the gloom that has gathered over the game on these shores.

Red rose rescue act

Even if South Africa are toppled, it will have been a middling autumn. Losing to Argentina in the series opener was a hammer blow and while authority was restored against a disappointing Japan, it took a stunning late comeback to draw with New Zealand and spare Jones uncomfortable questions over the direction of the team. But those questions will surface if the Springboks storm Twickenham, where they have not won in three Tests dating back to 2014.

Itoje v Etzebeth

Maro Itoje and Eddie Jones
Maro Itoje, left, has drawn praise from England coach Eddie Jones (Andrew Matthews/PA)

One of the modern game’s great duels will resume when Maro Itoje and Eben Etzebeth vie for second-row supremacy. Jones has talked up Itoje throughout the autumn, comparing his “second coming” to a “comet” that is on the rise again and describing him as the best defensive player in the game. South Africa enforcer Etzebeth, meanwhile, sets the tone for his side up front, as noted by Mako Vunipola: “He’s very physical, confrontational and tough. And he will keep coming all day.”

Tuilagi hits 50

Eleven years after making his debut against Wales, Manu Tuilagi finally reaches a half century of caps. One of England’s most effective players would have amassed almost three times that number had he not been hit by a cruel succession of injuries that have punched large holes in his Test career. England and Tuilagi’s club Sale have worked together in designing a training and rehab programme that has managed to keep the powerful centre of Samoan heritage available for the entire autumn – no mean feat – and the nation will be praying that he stays fit for next year’s World Cup.