As next year’s World Cup in Japan comes increasingly into focus, it is time for England to start performing and winning rugby matches again.
After losing just one game throughout 2016 and 2017, the current calendar year has been something of an annus horribilis so far for Eddie Jones’ men.
There were three straight defeats in the Six Nations and a humbling at the hands of Barbarians at the end of May. Thus the onus is on Jones to conjure a winning formula in this summer’s three-match Test series against South Africa.
Worryingly for England, though, is their dismal record of having never won a Test series in the Rainbow Nation.
Ahead of today's opening Test, their record against the Springboks reads one victory in the last 13 meetings between the sides.
A mountainous task, therefore, for Jones and his players, with England having not won at Ellis Park in Johannesburg, the "spiritual home" of Springboks rugby, since 1972.
Jones has named two uncapped players in his matchday 23: Brad Shields and Ben Spencer, who are both among the replacements.
Owen Farrell will captain the side as club mate Mako Vunipola hones in on his 50th England cap – a milestone he will be able to share with brother Billy, who returns to Test match duty after a 15-month absence.
Jones has included seven players in the starting XV who were involved in the Aviva Premiership final between Saracens and Exeter Chiefs two weekends ago, including Nick Isiekwe, who will make his first start for England.
Jones said: “We have had a really good week in preparation for this weekend and we are pleased with the way the squad have come together.
“Owen Farrell has settled in well to his new role, with the senior players supporting him, and there is a good feeling within the camp.
“We want to do something special on this tour and the players are all incredibly excited about this challenge and opportunity we have.”
England’s record in South Africa does not bode well.
They have not beaten the Boks at home since 2000, when Jonny Wilkinson kicked eight penalties and a drop goal to record an historic 27-22 triumph.
And Ellis Park – setting for first Test – is a venue England have not won at in 46 years.
Despite everything, back-rower Chris Robshaw said: “We are looking forward to it.
“We are under no illusions about how hard it is going to be, and we have spoken about how hard it is to go there and be successful.”
• Shields set for debut
• No room for Cipriani
Eddie Jones has named his England side for the first test against South Africa.
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