Q: Are England coming to a peak at the right time?
MC: It’s great that they are still in the tournament. The focus has been on the other side of the draw and those incredible quarter finals in Paris. The quality of play was at another level. The question is how do you compare? England has beaten what’s in front of them. They don’t look like they are playing to the same standard as South Africa, New Zealand, France or Ireland.
But the great thing about rugby and the World Cup is that anything can happen on the day. We will be going as overwhelming underdogs all you need is a few things to go your way and it might be a very different outcome.
Q: England are the only unbeaten team in the tournament. Do you think they have adapted to playing in these environments?
MC: You only have to look back to the semi final in 2019. We were a bit further on than we are now but it was a brave pundit that backed England in that game. It wasn’t just we beat the All Blacks, it was the manner in which we did which was incredible.
Q: Is the pressure more on England or South Africa?
MC: South Africa have had a really tough build up. And you saw with England in 2019 how difficult it is to back up great performances. They have had to do that against Ireland and France. There will be a lot of battered bodies in the South Africa dressing room. Mentally too, look where they had to go in order to win that game last week. They have to dust themselves down and take themselves up again.
To pick yourselves up again and again is so tough. That’s what makes the World Cup. I am sure there absolutely will be another twist in this tournament.
If these sides were to play each other ten times what would the outcome be? I’d say South Africa nine times out of ten but in knock out rugby there’s always that one game where the odds are upset.
Q: Do England have the physicality in the pack? Can they match SA?
MC: That’s where the game is. Can we get a parity up front? As a forward, firstly can you match them physically. As an England forward you absolutely loved these games because it is a real test mentally as well as physically on the day. They will be stewing in their rooms, desperate for Saturday to come round. For a forward it is the ultimate test. You have to go out there against this big pack and you have to stop that forward momentum. It sounds simple. But the Bosk are so effective at it.
As a former forward you’d love just to have one more of those days. These are the games which are really special.
Q: How demanding is it for a forward?
MC: It's hell. Typically there are one or two players in an opposition team who are really physically imposing. But with the Boks there is eight of them. If you clear out one in a ruck, you get smashed by somebody else. It is that relentless nature. The way they are using their replacements. You see off one lot and an even better lot come on to raise the intensity again. I think it is great for the game. It is great to see as a rugby fan to see how they are looking to disrupt the game.
Q: How does your body feel after facing the Boks?
MC: Aching, hurting, bruised, the lot of it! Test rugby is tough. My last international was that World Cup final. I was absolutely battered. The South Africa side we played in ’07 is not as good as the current one. There is a lot more to their game. Seeing them against France was fantastic to see where the game is at now.
England need to nullify that right from the start. If we allow South Africa to play like that it is going to be a tough long night.
They have threats everywhere. If you become too focussed on their pack and are stopping their momentum there is a danger you get too tight defensively and the wingers and what they are doing and the speed at which they play and execute they pose threats right across the field. They have developed a really complete game.
Q: Who needs to stand up for England particularly?
MC: This is the time for every one of the England pack to have the game of their lives. There can’t be any passengers. When you start looking at this England side, we do have some really strong characters, like Itoje, and Courtney. We have seen at various times in the tournament each individual player raising their game significantly.
If everyone does have the game of their lives and plays to their absolute top level, there is a chance for England.
Q: Any potential weakness in South Africa? Anything England can look to exploit?
MC: As France showed, because of the way South Africa plays, England will get opportunities. They do make mistakes and it is about how quickly and ruthlessly we can capitalise on them.
Also, no side has really tried to strangle South Africa. If you go out and try and play rugby against them on paper, they are the better side. But if you go out to strangle them, not give them a front foot ball, have broken field situations, take the ball out of an area where they can physically dominate. Don’t give them that opportunity. England need to play their way. The team has had way too much stick on the way they have played the games so far. They are finding their way in terms of what to do to win Test match rugby.
If that means it’s going to be a territory based game and for England to keep on the pressure on constantly, then they can impose themselves and say, ‘We are not going to allow you, South Africa, to play the game you want to. This is the England way and what we do.” It will be really interesting to see how they respond to that.
Q: What makes Borthwick tick?
MC: He is a very pragmatic coach. He loves the detail. And going into these games, that is exactly what you want. He will have done so much research and the data analysts are looking at how England will front up. There will be something that the analysts are working on which Borthwick has seen which will be both effective and getting the players to believe that if we play this way, then we can beat South Africa. That is their mindset coming into the game. Steve is neve going to be the big emotional coach we see elsewhere in the world. He is understated but I am sure he will be giving the players the game plan and it will be really structured and the players will buy into it, and if we play the best games of our lives, we can beat South Africa.
Giving the players that belief is more important than the actual tactics. If you can get the whole squad genuinely believing, that can make the difference.
Q: What is the Importance of the kicking game?
MC: For England it is vital for our gamer, how we are going to kick, when we choose to. If England are to dominate territory it is those kicks which pin them back, which are crucial.
South Africa kick - in attack really well.
Q: Is Owen Farrell the right man?
MC: Going into games like this you don’t want chopping and changing. We went into the World Cup written off and we have developed and improved. To allow the team to consistently get better you need to have the consistency of selection.
Q: Do you regret not winning the World Cup in 2007?
MC: Yes! I remember sitting in the dressing room after the final alongside my great mate Benny Kay. We were both just battered and devastated and I said: ‘What would you rather, lose a World Cup final or not be in a World Cup final? ‘
We were so devastated at that moment. And we couldn’t answer it. It was just horrific.
But looking back it could have been a whole heap worse, where we could have come back after the poll stages as a national embarrassment. And we didn’t. That is a real positive.
Q: How long does it take for the body and mind to recover from a game, especially against South Africa?
MC: Every game is different. You can play a Test match and feel as right as rain the next day. You can play a Test match and still feel it for a couple of weeks afterwards.
It is physical and mental. There are therefore enough questions going into the game about how much of a toll the games South Africa have played will take out of them. They must have an impact.
This World Cup has been tougher on South Africa than any other nation.
Q: What is your final Prediction?
MC: My head says South Africa. They would win this nine times out of ten. But there is enough in it just to say we could do it. There is that nagging feeling that England can win. Everyone’s writing them off, so when there is no pressure on you there is enough to offer a glimmer of hope.
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