Johannesburg – A 42-man England squad skippered by flank Chris Robshaw arrived on Thursday in crisp, clear conditions to start a five-match, three-Test tour of South Africa.
After travelling overnight from London, the 2012 Six Nations championship runners-up took a one-hour flight from Johannesburg to Durban.
Kings Park in Durban hosts the first Test on June 9 followed by Coca-Cola Park in Johannesburg a week later and Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth on July 23.
There will also be midweek matches against South African Barbarians sides – drawn from players in the second tier of the Currie Cup domestic competition – in Kimberley on June 13 and Potchefstroom six days’ later.
The Test series has been labelled “A new era against an old enemy” by series broadcasters SuperSport, referring to new Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer and the 106-year rugby union rivalry between the countries.
Having led the Pretoria-based Bulls to Currie Cup and Super 14 glory, Meyer replaced Peter de Villiers after defending champions South Africa lost 11-9 to Australia in the 2011 Rugby World Cup quarter-finals.
A 3-3 stalemate was the outcome of the 1906 Test between England and South Africa at Crystal Palace in London, the only draw with the Springboks winning 19 and losing 12 of the subsequent meetings.
England visited South Africa for the first time in 1972 and won a one-off Test 18-9 at Ellis Park, but have managed just two more victories in nine other internationals in the republic.
The Red Roses also made a last-eight exit from the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand, falling 19-12 to eventual runners-up France, and have also changed coaches with Stuart Lancaster replacing Martin Johnson.
Meyer names a 32-man series squad in Pretoria on Saturday after the Super Rugby clash between the Bulls and the Stormers and suffered a blow this week when a back injury sidelined lock Andries Bekker for five weeks.
Stormer Bekker was a certain first Test starter and Bulls’ Flip van der Merwe and Juandre Kruger and 20-year-old Eben Etzebeth of Stormers are now the main contenders to replace legendary lock pair Bakkies Botha and Victor Matfield.
Botha has moved to French side Toulon and has not figured in any squad speculation while Matfield retired after the World Cup and persistent rumours of a return against England never materialised.
An injury to prop Matt Stevens forced Lancaster into a late change with Rupert Harden from Gloucester drafted in to join 21 other forwards and 20 backs on tour.
While Meyer will rely largely on Bulls, Stormers and Coastal Sharks, 30 of the England squad come from Premiership winners Harlequins, runners-up Leicester and semi-finalists Northampton and Saracens.
Among the Leicester Tigers is Samoa-born centre Manu Tuilagi, cleared this week of performing a ‘tip’ tackle on fellow tourist and Harlequins scrum-half Danny Care in the Premiership final.