2018 Summer Tests: South Africa v England

England venture to South Africa this summer in the hope of regaining the form that took them to second in the world and 17 consecutive victories. South Africa too will be looking to get some momentum heading into the Rugby Championship, and get rid of some demons by gaining a big scalp in the process.

Here we look at the match up, the history, our computer’s predictions and the likely outcomes.

Computer Prediction

Our computer model gives South Africa the edge in the first match, but it’s tight and the margin of victory has narrowed even further after South Africa’s narrow loss to Wales in Washington last weekend.

[NB. We haven’t predicted all three matches as each prediction would be the same. These will therefore be updated as the tour progresses.]

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The model works by looking at previous scoring patters in matches, both head to heads and generally, to work out an expected score for each team based on location and current ranking. For more information on how these calculations are made, see here, and for further predictions see here.

If you’d like to bet based on these predictions, please see here for our specific tips on using our predictions for betting.

England

England suffered a woeful end to the Six Nations, losing three matches in a row, finishing in their lowest ever position in the Championship (5th), and having to endure a thrashing at home by Grand Slam winning Ireland.

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England’s 2017 and 2018 so far

From the golden-boy of English rugby, Eddie Jones now has his work cut out to win back favour before the World Cup next year in Japan, especially given last weekend’s match against the Barbarians. Although not at full strength, it has raised more questions than answers about this England squad.

So, we ask, how much would an English series win in South Africa count towards reigniting his campaign?

Well, should England win just one match, it would be the first English match win in South Africa since 2000 and only the fourth ever. Should they win two matches, it would be the first English series win in South Africa, and only the second summer series win outside of Argentina (the first being the 2016 whitewashing of Australia). Quite some credentials to play for, and we expect Eddie Jones to make full use of this difficult statistical history in the build up to the matches and in the aftermath, in his own inimical style. Touring has clearly never been easy in South Africa, and any success will rightly be leapt upon.

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However, what success should England expect? Would Eddie Jones be right to tout the lack of English victories in South Africa as indicative of how they should be judged this time round?

South Africa

South Africa have had very mixed fortunes recently. Starting from 2017, they confidently beat a touring French side, toppled Argentina home and away, before getting hammered in their heaviest ever defeat to New Zealand. Rebounding, they drew twice with Australia and nearly beat New Zealand in the return fixture before suffering their heaviest ever Autumn Internationals defeat at the hands of Ireland. Rounding out their year they beat an awful France and Italy, before narrowly losing out to Wales.

So what can be made of this?

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Well, amongst other things, it means South Africa are probably not the team they once were, sadly. They have had a multitude of local problems off the field that have impacted their international side. However, they can clearly still play when they want to, and have caused some good sides a lot of difficulties recently. If they turn up, England will certainly have their hands full.

South Africa also played a warm up match against Wales in Washington on 2nd June. Although they fielded a very inexperienced team (with 13 debutants in the squad) it was a narrow loss away by just two points. Not the confidence building win that they would have hoped for.

History

England have been ranked above South Africa since the mid 2016s marking a reversal of the historical norm, aside from an English period of dominance in the early 2000s. However, recent English defeats have reduced their ranking significantly, down from a high of around 91 in January to their current 86. With South Africa’s home advantage (deemed by World Rugby to be worth three points) this means that South Africa will be ‘ranked’ only marginally behind England on home soil, one of the reasons why our computer has them as slight favourites.

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The teams have met 38 times in the past, with South Africa winning 23 and England 13 and two draws. England broke an extended period of South African dominance with a long overdue win in 2016, recording their first win in over 10 years and 12 matches.

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Last 20 matches between the two

Conclusion

Had we been asked to call these matches back in January, before England’s trio of defeats, we’d have called them fairly comfortable favourites. However, England have now been shown to have some weaknesses, and teams will no longer be intimidated by their statistical record when playing them. South Africa will fancy their chances on home soil.

Depending on when you draw the limit for deciding form, arguments can be made for both teams being favourites. England have undoubtedly been more consistent in recent years, but have suffered a dip in form, and may be low on confidence. South Africa have definitely been on a decline, and can certainly still put out a performance, especially at home. So who’s going to win

We think it will be close and, along with Ireland in Australia, the series to watch this summer. Our computer predicts a narrow South African win in the first game, so we’ll stick with the numbers, and say South Africa by a hair.

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