Preview: South Africa ‘A’ v England Saxons

An experienced England Saxons side will face South Africa 'A' in the first of two matches at Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein on Friday.

Both sides have international Test experience within their matchday squads, it is, however, Saxons who have the edge when it comes to the number of caps (60) over their hosts (37).

Given the wealth of experience in the Saxons squad, that might just be enough for the visiting side to outsmart Johan Ackermann's men. 

Ackermann has left 25 Springbok caps on the bench, which comes as no surprise for the unorthodox-approaching Lions head coach. The most experienced Test player for the home side, Coenie Oosthuizen, will have to wait his turn to make an impact.

Not that any side chooses to lose, but victory for either side will in all likelihood not be at the top of the 'to-do' list. Rest assured that these 56 players will use this as opportunity to try and alter the thinking of their respective international head coaches.

Both Vincent Koch and Thomas du Toit were given the nod ahead of Oosthuizen, which is testament to both Koch and Du Toit's fine form, especially at the scrum, for the Stormers and Sharks respectively.

All eyes will certainly turn to the young and exciting Garth April – the former Boland player has been in impressive form both in general play and off the kicking tee, since making his Super Rugby debut for the Sharks this season.

April has come up against some tough New Zealand opposition in the Super Rugby with him looking the part and setting the field alight. The 24-year-old playmaker will be sure to try and stand out as he continues to lay claim on the Springbok number ten jersey.

The confident Wasps-bound playmaker Danny Cipriani will head into this fixture as the favourite to come out on top however in the battle between the fly-halves. 

Cipriani has made 17 appearances for England and will, if given half a gap, pose questions aplenty against this inexperienced SA 'A' defence.

The Saxons fly-half will pair up with his future Wasps half-back partner Dan Robson, coming off the back of a fine season, but it's the dynamism of the Saxons back-row and the potential impact of Dave Ewers off the bench that appear a real positive for the visiting side.

Those players who have slipped out of the England 23 in recent seasons such as Kieran Brookes and Dave Attwood have plenty to prove, while youngsters recently in the England U20s, Charlie Ewels and Nick Tompkins, will play without any fear.

It's an interesting group, and one that will be thoroughly tested in Bloemfontein and George.

Players to Watch

For South Africa ‘A’: Four players that were training with the Springbok squad for the last two weeks have been named in the starting XV. The exciting Sharks fly-half, Garth April will get his first start at international level after making his Super Rugby debut at the beginning of this season. Saracens-bound prop Vincent Koch will be looking to exert some pressure on Exeter Chiefs' front-rower Alec Hepburn. The front-rower will look to make his presence felt, especially at scrum time, as he is likely to face all of the England Saxons' players, sans Saracens teammate Nick Tompkins, when he turns up for the Allianz Park outfit in the 2016/17 season.

For England Saxons: Ollie Devoto and Tommy Taylor, who both came off the bench to gain their first England caps in the recent Old Mutual Wealth Cup against Wales, are among the names starting on Friday. Former Sale Sharks pivot Danny Cipriani will be a player to keep a keen eye on. Cipriani has the ability to get over the gain line with ease allowing the backline to use their pace and talent, and with the likes of Semesa Rokoduguni the SA 'A' side's defence will have their work cut out for them.

Head-to-head: Don Armand captained UCT from 2008 until 2012 and during this time Stormers number eight, Nizaam Carr, was a prominent figure for UCT. Armand is known for his high work-rate both off the ball and on attack. Armand and Carr might have lots of respect for each other as players and former teammates, but this will be the first time that they will face each other at national level and should provide for a mouthwatering battle and few big hits being exchanged.

In the midfield for the SA 'A' side, the in-form Lions player, Howard Mnisi has broken some of the toughest defences during the Super Rugby season so far but his opposite number although only 22 years of age, Ollie Devoto, made his debut for England as recent as last week against Wales at Twickenham, while Mnisi has yet to earn a Bok cap. The 26-year-old's powerful runs will certainly test Devoto's tackling discipline and subsequently set up a very exciting tussle.

Prediction: Despite having the homeground advantage and having played at this altitude, the SA 'A' side have a considerable number of players that haven't played at Test level yet which should provide the visitors with the edge. The England Saxons to narrowly beat SA 'A' by less than five.

The teams:

South Africa ‘A’: 15 Leolin Zas, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Francois Venter, 12 Howard Mnisi, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Garth April, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Oupa Mohoje (c), 6 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 JD Schickerling, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Scarra Ntubeni, 1 Thomas du Toit
Replacements: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Lizo Gqoboka, 18 Coenie Oosthuizen, 19 RG Snyman, 20 Jean-Luc du Preez, 21 Piet van Zyl, 22 Francois Brummer, 23 Lukhanyo Am

England Saxons: 15 Mike Haley, 14 Alex Lewington, 13 Nick Tompkins, 12 Ollie Devoto, 11 Semesa Rokoduguni, 10 Danny Cipriani, 9 Dan Robson, 8 Sam Jones, 7 Matt Kvesic, 6 Don Armand, 5 Charlie Ewels, 4 Dave Attwood (c), 3 Kieran Brookes, 2 Tommy Taylor, 1 Alec Hepburn
Replacements: 16 George McGuigan, 17 Ross Harrison, 18 Jake Cooper-Woolley, 19 Mitch Lees, 20 Dave Ewers, 21 Micky Young, 22 Sam James, 23 Christian Wade

Date: Friday, June 10
Venue: Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein
Kick-off: 19:10 local (17:10 GMT)
Referee: Rasta Rasivhenge (South Africa)
Assistant Referees: Lourens van der Merwe (South Africa), Jaco Kotze (South Africa)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)