A game fit for heroes

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The Independent Online
OWEN SLOT

reports from Cape Town

The way they belted out the national anthem was an indication of what the England team had in them. And the fleeting moments before the opening whistle reinforced the impression. Tony Underwood and Mike Catt hugged each other, Martin Bayfield thumped his chest, the rest of the forwards huddled and cajoled. This was a day that England needed to lift themselves, and how they did.

A year ago to the day, at the very same stadium, this side was humbled 27-9 by South Africa. They have grown in stature, but never since then have they needed to reach the heights required of them yesterday. The same pack was outplayed by Argentina 16 days ago, but yesterday was so strong in possession that the Wallabies, said their coach Bob Dwyer, were shut out for long periods of the game.

In England's previous three World Cup games, the players have been substituted at the faintest threat of injury, but yesterday they needed to be forced off. Only at the compulsion of the referee did Dean Richards leave the field, his head swathed in blood. He returned immediately, waving urgently for Steve Ojomoh, his replacement, to leave the pitch and allow him to return to battle, a red-stained bandage wrapped round his head.

Dewi Morris, likewise, was determined to stay for the fight. In the 36th minute, he was lying prone after putting his body before the full force of two Australian forwards. Kevin Murphy, the team physio, treated him, helped him to his feet and Morris hobbled towards the side of the pitch as if to leave the fray. But it was the ball and not the repose of the touchline that he was after. He picked it up, limped to the scrum and carried on. Kyran Bracken was warming up and Murphy was frantically gesticulating for Morris to retire, but he ignored the call.

With heroes like Richards and Morris out there, England were able to perform at their peak. But particularly impressive was their resilience. They let a 10-point lead drift away, for the third quarter their forwards lost the upper hand, and they were forced to chase the game. When they were behind Australia in the 1991 World Cup final they never managed to catch up, but yesterday they raised themselves in the most incredible finish.

"Deano and I talked, as we walked to that last line-out, about what we might do," Rob Andrew said. "But it was text-book stuff: a penalty, the line-out, a drive, a drop goal."

Jack Rowell, the England manager, was still close to tears 30 minutes later. "Gentlemen, this has been a big day for England," he said, unable to meet the gaze of the assembled throng. "Not for England rugby, for England."

WORLD CUP

UPDATE

QUARTER-FINALS

Yesterday

England 25 Australia 22

Tries: T Underwood Smith

Convs: Andrew Lynagh

Pens: Andrew 5 Lynagh 5

Drop goal: Andrew

(at Newlands, Cape Town)

New Zealand 48 Scotland 30

Tries: Little 2 Weir 2,

Lomu, Mehrtens S Hastings

Bunce, Fitzpatrick

Convs: Mehrtens 6 G Hastings 3

Pens: Mehrtens 2 G Hastings 3

(at Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria)

Saturday

France 36 Ireland 12

Tries: Saint-Andre,

N'Tamack

Convs: Lacroix

Pens: Lacroix 8 Elwood 4

(at King's Park, Durban)

South Africa 42 W Samoa 14

Tries: Williams 4, Nu'uali'ita,

Rossouw, Andrews Tatupu

Convs: Johnson 3 Faamasino 2

Pens: Johnson 2

(at Ellis Park, Johannesburg)

SEMI-FINALS

Saturday, 17 June

France v South Africa (2.0pm BST)

(at King's Park, Durban)

Sunday, 18 June

England v New Zealand (2.0)

(at Newlands, Cape Town)

THIRD-PLACE PLAY-OFF: Thurs 22 June (Pretoria).

FINAL: Sat 24 June (Johannesburg).

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