England’s Ben Earl 18kg lighter than South Africa man mountain Duane Vermeulen

Earl and England look ahead to Rugby World Cup semi-final

When it comes to illustrating the size of the task facing England against world champions South Africa on Saturday night at the Stade de France, there is a literal example of it at No 8. England’s Ben Earl, one of the shining lights of their World Cup campaign, will be giving away 18kg to Springbok man mountain Duane Vermeulen.

Size is not everything in rugby union but it doesn’t half help and South Africa corner the market in enormous human beings. England aren’t exactly tiny, of course, but when the imbalance with Vermeulen was put to Earl there was a slight pause, as if the full realisation of it was sinking in.

“It’s a World Cup semi-final. It’s sink or swim. Let’s hope I swim,” said Earl. “I’ve got to bring the best of myself and play to my strengths.

“I know what I’m trying to get out of the weekend. To play against someone like him is going to be brilliant. Anyone who’s played against him says he’s one of the smartest players as well as the biggest. I’ve been watching highlights of some of their players in the pack since I was 12.

“I’ve got a huge amount of respect for them. But the only way to respect them is by bringing our best and seeing where that gets us after 80 minutes.”

There will be an element of boxing clever involved for Earl and for England. Pile unthinkingly straight into a row of massive green traffic bollards and you tend to come off second best.

Steve Borthwick’s game plan cannot be just route one rugby. But at some point the nature of the sport means England will have to fight fire with fire.

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“In international rugby if you’re not physically at it, if you don’t physically impose yourself, you’re going to struggle to win a Test match,” said Earl.

The non-negotiable for England is to front up in the confrontation zones hence the changes Borthwick has made to his pack.

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