Rugby Union: Andrew's ammunition silences the snipers: England's outstanding outside-half makes a point of kicking criticism into touch. Steve Bale reports from Port Elizabeth

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The Independent Online
Rob Andrew has based an entire career on proving his doubters wrong, so perhaps the match-winning 27 points with which he - more gleefully than he pretends - stuffed his critics' words back down their throats were not such a surprise.

England beat South Africa in Pretoria last Saturday after the finest sustained opening to a Test match any country has achieved in recent memory. But to make it count it needed Andrew to nail down the chances that their sensational rugby threw up. He was magnificent.

He has passed this way before, so often that he has lost count of the times he could have said 'told you so'. No one, for instance, thought very much of him in his early years as England's outside-half and it was not until he became a Lion in Australia in 1989 - four years after first being capped - that he enjoyed critical acclaim.

Even during England's boom years of the early Nineties Andrew was regarded as a kicking stand-off with no more to his game than a big boot to drive his forwards forward. Last year, when the Lions were in New Zealand, he had to justify himself all over again.

And so on to South Africa, where it was logical to assume that the accession of a new England manager with an 18-year Bath connection might just tilt the balance from Andrew towards his career-long rival, Stuart Barnes. Once more Andrew has risen to the challenge, to satisfy Geoff Cooke's successor, Jack Rowell.

'I felt under pressure with the change in management and Jack having worked with Stuart for so long,' Andrew said. 'But I didn't think 'oh God, this is going to be the end of my England career'. In a sense it's no different from when Geoff was in charge. He dropped me last year.

'With Jack, I told myself I just had to keep playing as well as I possibly could and make it difficult for him to leave me out. And it wasn't only me; the team as a whole felt under a lot of pressure. But to be fair to him, he's come in and left everything in place.'

Had this tour continued as it began, this would not necessarily have lasted. 'Jack put the Five Nations team in against Natal and Transvaal and we didn't perform well in either, so when the Test match came we all knew we had to prove something to him,' Andrew said. 'I don't shout about it but there's an awful lot of satisfaction when it happens how it did against the Springboks, not least because of the huge effort that goes into it, not just physically but mentally.'

Given the perennial suspicion about his capacity for international rugby, this is two fingers to the world - in the nicest possible way. Andrew at 31 is at his zenith, his 57 caps a world record for an outside- half (plus one at full-back).

The 27 points which beat the Springboks are an England record, taking his personal aggregate past 200. The drop goal was his 17th for England; add his two for the Lions and he has overtaken Naas Botha's international mark. He is even getting to grips with England's new flat-passing game instead of standing deep in the safety of the 'pocket' behind his scrum-half.

As for his kicking, the odd thing is that he had been having such tribulation until Pretoria. 'I actually believe my technique has improved over the past nine months and when I do have an off-day I'm always fairly confident that it won't last,' he said.

Andrew puts the improvement down to consulting the kicking guru from Bristol, Dave Alred, and it revealed itself in a prolific season for Wasps until it was curtailed by injury. 'You have to remember that my last two games of last season were against France and Wales in March. We were all rusty when we played Natal and my goal-kicking didn't help.

'I also had a dodgy start against Transvaal but I looked at the video and saw I was rushing, so last week I worked hard on the technical side and when I got to the Test I made a big effort to slow it down.

'The first kick was quite a difficult one and it went straight through the middle, and when the second one slid in off the post it was one of those days when you could sense it was going to go your way.'

Not half: after 15 minutes England led 20-0, after 27 it was 23-0, and subsequently the gap never closed to less than 11 points. Final score: 32-15.

Next stop Cape Town. 'It's inconceivable that we could go 23 up so quickly in the second Test,' Andrew said, 'but there isn't any doubt we can produce a similar performance and if we do, even if the score is bound to be closer, we will win the match and take the series.'

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